Corona measures reduce air pollution and related deaths

Corona measures reduce air pollution and related deaths

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Reduced air pollution through measures against COVID-19 saves lives

In the past, scientific studies have shown that reduced air pollution significantly improves health. This is now also confirmed during the Corona pandemic. The cleaner air, which can be measured in many places thanks to the measures against COVID-19, reduces the number of premature deaths and asthma diseases in children.

Less road traffic, hardly any airplanes in the air, throttled power plants: The lockdown regulations that were put in place in connection with the corona crisis have suddenly reduced the emission of pollutants. As a result, air quality has improved significantly since the beginning of the corona pandemic. This also has a positive effect on health.

Positive effect on human health

As the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry wrote in a recent communication, the drastic measures in the fight against the coronavirus not only prevent many potentially fatal COVID-19 cases.

The associated unprecedented economic decline, for example in road and air traffic, in power generation or in industry, also affects global air quality.

In turn, cleaner air has a positive impact on human health, as an international research team found: less air pollution leads to fewer premature deaths, especially among adults, and asthma in children.

Avoided thousands of premature deaths

"We estimate that around 7400 premature deaths and 6600 cases of childhood asthma were avoided in the first two weeks of lockdowns worldwide," said Jos Lelieveld, director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and one of the authors of a recently published study .

According to the information, the first two weeks of lockdowns in each country were evaluated. According to this, around 1,400 and 5,300 premature deaths were avoided in China and India alone as a result of the lower fine dust values.

Since these two countries have both the highest pollution levels and the highest population density, they benefit most from the drop in pollutants.

Air pollution, especially air contaminated with fine dust, significantly shortens life expectancy. It leads to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and thus affects the number of premature deaths.

Prevent millions of asthma cases in children

The researchers also estimate that 780,000 premature adult deaths and 1.6 million childhood asthma cases could be avoided worldwide. The prerequisite, however, would be that the pollutant concentrations in the air remained low until the end of the year.

According to the scientists, these results illustrate the potential health benefits that result from reduced air pollution.

“We do not want to say that the current restrictions are desirable or sustainable for the economy. However, the current situation shows the importance of the often overlooked global air pollution crisis, ”explains Zander Venter from the Norwegian Institute for Natural Research in Oslo.

He is the first author of the study, which was recently published on the preprint server medRxiv. The manuscript that the research team submitted to a scientific journal is currently in the review process.

Significant decrease in the amount of fine dust near the ground
The researchers determined the effects of the forced lockdowns by evaluating data from satellites and from more than 10,000 measuring stations in 27 countries, including various European countries such as Germany and Spain, but also from China and Chile.

According to the data, air pollution decreased by an average of about 20 percent in the first two weeks of the lockdowns.

In some countries, the scientists noticed a significant decrease in the amounts of nitrogen dioxide, ozone and fine dust near the ground.

Reduce air pollution even after the corona crisis

To link the air quality data with the premature deaths, the researchers first determined the levels of nitrogen dioxide, ozone and particulate matter (PM2.5) in the respective countries.

The experts then used epidemiological methods to calculate the daily health burden in relation to the population density per country.

The number of preventable deaths and new asthma cases that can be avoided by the end of the year results from a forecast of how the concentrations of nitrogen oxides, ozone and particulate matter would change by the end of the year if the restrictions persisted.

Because a long-term reduction in air pollutants would have a significantly more positive impact on health than a reduction for two weeks, the number of preventable premature deaths among adults and asthma in children rose disproportionately by the end of the year.

"In order to reduce air pollution in the long term even after the corona crisis, we should aim to phase out the burning of fossil fuels," said Jos Lelieveld. "This would not only improve the health of people worldwide, but also protect the climate in the medium term." (Ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Max Planck Institute for Chemistry: Corona locks: cleaner air saves lives, (accessed: April 29, 2020), Max Planck Institute for Chemistry
  • Zander S Venter, Kristin Aunan, Sourangsu Chowdhury, Jos Lelieveld: COVID-19 lockdowns cause global air pollution declines with implications for public health risk; medRxiv, (published: April 14th, 2020), medRxiv

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