The effect of COVID-19 on air pollution


Bottom Line:

Early data demonstrates a marked reduction in air pollution, specifically NO2 and CO2, both produced by burning fossil fuels. It is estimated that even if the observed figures were underestimated, there would be at minimum a 6% reduction in pollution related illness over two months, preventing the death of roughly 100,000 pollution-related deaths in China alone. 


Dutheil, F., Baker, J.S. & Navel, V. COVID-19 as a factor influencing air pollution?. Environmental pollution (Barking, Essex : 1987) (2020). 

Date Published:

9 April 2020


As COVID-19 emerged in China, authorities shut down transportation, schools, and businesses to slow down the spread of the novel virus. As a result, satellite imagery reveals NO2 and CO2 reductions of 30% and 25% in China, respectively. Air pollution is estimated to contribute to the death of about 4.6 million people annually through its effects on aggravating asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, lung and heart diseases, and respiratory allergies. In China, air pollution was estimated to result in 4,000 deaths per day. As such, the observed reduction in pollution could paradoxically not change as anticipated, by reducing pollution-related deaths by an estimated 100,000 people in China over two months. 

Summary by: Gil Yerushalmi