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New evidence shows how coronavirus has affected global air pollution

New evidence shows how coronavirus has affected global air pollution

The COVID-19 pandemic is getting more overwhelming by the day with increasing lockdowns, a death toll of over 7,000 people across the world, and a direct hit to the global economy.

But amongst the disaster lies a beacon of hope, as the coronavirus has been decreasing air pollution and possibly even saving lives in the process.

On March 8, Stanford University environment resource economist Marshall Burke did some back-of-the-envelope calculations are the recent air pollution drop over parts of China and the amount of lives that may have been saved.

While the numbers won’t stay the same for long, according to Burke, it’s likely that the lives saved locally from the reduction in pollution exceed COVID-19 deaths in China.

“Given the huge amount of evidence that breathing dirty air contributes heavily to premature mortality, a natural – if admittedly strange – question is whether the lives saved from the reduction in pollution caused by economic disruption from COVID-19 exceeds the death toll from the virus itself,” writes Burke.

“Even under very conservative assumptions, I think the answer is a clear ‘yes’.”

The reduction of pollution over the course of two months has probably saved the lives of 4,000 children under the age of and 73,000 adults over 70 in China according to Burke. That’s significantly more than the current global death toll from the virus itself.

"It is remarkable that both the number of deaths and the loss in life expectancy from air pollution rival the effect of tobacco smoking and are much higher than other causes of death," physicist Jos Lelieveld from the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia stated at the time.

"Air pollution exceeds malaria as a global cause of premature death by a factor of 19; it exceeds violence by a factor of 16, HIV/AIDS by a factor of 9, alcohol by a factor of 45, and drug abuse by a factor of 60."

So, it’s proven that air pollution does kill.

Burke’s analysis was just using data from China, and was completed before there was more information about how coronavirus has affected the rest of the world.