In a world that’s currently full of uncertainty and chaos, any optimistic news is a much-welcomed respite. One such piece of news is the positive impact that coronavirus is having on the environment, with numerous reports emerging in the last few days of improved ecological conditions and lower pollution levels around the world.
These unexpected benefits have resulted from decreased industrial activity and a reduced human footprint in the areas that have been enforcing strict lockdowns and social distancing measures, in an effort to combat the spread of the disease.
One stark observation is the reduction in levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the atmosphere, which have plunged dramatically in areas enforcing the tightest restrictions. NO2, which is released into the air by cars, power plants and manufacturing equipment when burning fuel, is known to aggravate pre-existing health conditions such as emphysema, asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Reduced air pollution levels may therefore help to improve symptoms for people living with these illnesses, which may, in turn, actually slow the spread of coronavirus, given that it is a disease that is more likely to affect those with pre-existing respiratory conditions.
One area where reduced levels of NO2 are more prominent is Wuhan, the city in China where the coronavirus pandemic originated, which has seen a 20% drop in NO2 levels since a lockdown was enforced there in late January.
Areas of northern Italy worst affected by the virus have also seen a dramatic 40% drop in NO2 levels since the start of the crisis. Even in the UK, where tighter social restrictions have only come into force in the last week, pollution monitors are already registering significant year-on-year drops in NO2 levels in places where air pollution is known to be particulary bad, such as Camden and Westminster in Central London.
Another positive environmental benefit of coronavirus is the return of wildlife and improved biodiversity in places which have previously experienced the negative effects of industry, tourism and pollution. The world-famous canals of Venice are testament to this statement, with fish, crabs and various seawater plants returning to their waters for the first time in many Venetians’ lifetimes. The canals, usually populated by cruise ships, motorboat taxis and other motorized vehicles, have been clear of all traffic after the city was placed into lockdown following the outbreak of coronavirus in Italy.
This has given the wildlife a chance to regroup and make a return, as well as dramatically improve the clarity of the water in the canal usually so muddied and polluted by the boats traveling up and down them.
However, not everyone has been entirely positive about the effect that coronavirus could have on the environment. Renowned TV environmentalist Chris Packham has warned that the virus pandemic could mean that the issue of climate change gets pushed down on Government’s agendas, leading to a reduction in initiatives to try and solve the issue. He also states that wildlife reserves and nature parks could be left untended and maintenance of such areas may go neglected. Despite these concerns however, we can only deal with what is in front of us at the moment, and any silver lining to come out of this crisis is worth celebrating.