The improvement in air quality over the past month of the coronavirus lockdown has led to 11,000 fewer deaths from pollution in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.
Sharp falls in road traffic and industrial emissions have also resulted in 1.3m fewer days of work absence, 6,000 fewer children developing asthma, 1,900 avoided emergency room visits and 600 fewer preterm births, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
While the pandemic continues to take a terrible toll – more than 220,000 deaths worldwide since the start of the year – the authors of the report say the response has offered a glimpse of the cleaner, healthier environment that is possible if the world shifts away from polluting fossil fuel industries.
Compared with the same period last year, levels of nitrogen dioxide have fallen by 40% while tiny particulate matter – known as PM2.5 – is down 10%, which means that people without Covid-19 can breathe easier. These two forms of pollution, which weaken the heart and respiratory system, are together normally responsible for about 470,000 deaths in Europe each year.
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