In The News: Coronavirus: Portsmouth sees highest drop in nitrous dioxide pollution in England during lockdown

The reduction in traffic will cause a small improvement in some people’s health during the lock down, along with a small drop in other infectious diseases. In contrast, air pollution is estimated to cause the equivalent of 40,000 deaths a year in the UK. Although it is difficult to estimate the exact impact at this stage, COVID-19 looks to be a larger problem but not by a huge degree. It is important to remember that air quality impacts us continually, year in year out, while COVID-19 may be eliminated if a vaccine becomes available. We have taken action to reduce the risk of COVID 19, but this has also shown that air quality improvements are possible in principle, if we have the political will.

Another factor is that both air quality and COVID-19 are public health issues that have been de-prioritized due to short term economic considerations. Fortunately, the government’s response to COVID-19 has improved but there is still little progress on improving air quality. Part of the problem is that most pollution is invisible and the problems caused by air quality are not directly attributable to the cause. People are simply not aware of the risk they are exposed to due to traffic and other emissions. We have also seen similar lack of action on climate break down, which is a greater threat to health and the future economy that either of these two issues.