Air quality improvements during the first lockdown phase in Europe

08 February 2022

Article: 56/503

Research led by a team of statistical health and earth observation satellite modellers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), using data from the European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), has found that more than 800 deaths may have been avoided due to better air quality during the first lockdown phase in Europe. By comparing exposure to air pollution between February and July of 2020 across 47 major cities, scientists concluded that government measures to limit the spread of the virus also protected people from air pollution. 

Government measures for COVID-19, such as school and workplace closure, cancelling public events, and stay-at-home requirements, had the strongest effect on reducing nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels. This is linked to the reduction in road transport and local mobility, with Spanish, French and Italian cities reporting the largest decrease in NO2 during this period, of between 50% and 60%.

Although strong decreases in NO2 were observed, levels of fine particulate matter PM2.5 and PM10 were reduced more modestly since they are also produced by natural sources, such as wildfires and dust, and other emission sources like residential activities that were slightly increased during lockdown.

Source: LSHTM, 26 January 2022