Study: COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 improved air quality and saved 800 lives in Europe

An almost empty Marina street is seen in Barcelona, ​​Spain, during a COVID-19 lockdown on March 21, 2020. Wednesday’s report said Barcelona has seen one of the biggest decreases in pollution-related deaths from the air during lockdown in 2020. File Photo by Andreu Dalmau/EPA-EFE

January 26 (UPI) — Lockdowns during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 led to improved air quality that likely saved hundreds of lives in dozens of cities across Europe, according to a study published Wednesday.

The closures have been responsible for dramatic improvements in air quality as restrictions have led to fewer vehicles on the road, according to the study by experts from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

As a direct result, the researchers said, about 800 fewer people died.

The study looked at the air quality in nearly 50 cities across Europe and their corresponding death rates. Some of the top cities where improved air quality has led to fewer deaths are Paris, London, Barcelona and Milan.

“The study compared government policies in 47 European cities from February to July 2020 and estimated changes in pollution levels and the number of deaths averted during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the London school in a statement on Wednesday.

Children ride scooters in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, during a COVID-19 lockdown on March 26, 2020. File photo by Eco Clement/UPI

“Government measures for COVID-19 such as school and workplace closures, cancellation of public events and stay-at-home requirements have had the strongest effect on reducing [nitrogen dioxide] levels. This is linked to the reduction in road transport and local mobility which is known to be a contributor to NO2 air pollution. Cities in Spain, France and Italy saw the biggest drop in NO2 between 50% and 60% over the period.”

The European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts funded the research, which was led by a team of statistical health and satellite observation modellers at the School of London.

Other studies have shown that COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns in 2020 also had a dramatic effect on climate change, as they removed major sources of greenhouse gases from roads around the world. A United Nations report last September, however, said carbon emissions quickly returned after the lockdowns were lifted.

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