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More than 1,700 UK deaths avoided due to lockdown air quality improvement

By Trevor Marshallsea, PA

More than 1,700 deaths in the UK have been avoided in the past month due to better air quality caused by the coronavirus lockdown, according to a Europe-wide study.

The Finland-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) report says levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – produced by road traffic and heavy industry – have dropped by some 40% in the past 30 days.

The study also found a 10% reduction in the average level of particulate matter pollution across Europe.

These decreases had resulted in an estimated 11,000 avoided deaths related to air pollution across Europe, including approximately 1,752 in the UK – the second-highest number in the study behind Germany (2,083).

CREA researchers said there had been a 37% drop in power generation from coal across Europe as a result of the lockdowns, while oil consumption had fallen by some 33%.

Other avoided health impacts included 6,000 fewer new cases of asthma in childen, 1.3 million fewer days of work absence, 1,900 avoided emergency room visits causes by asthma attacks, and 600 fewer premature births, the study said.

The study’s authors Lauri Myllyvirta and Hubert Thieriot said their analysis used detailed air quality statistical modelling to separate the effects of weather conditions and changes in emissions.

“The Covid-19 crisis has brought about untold human suffering, and its side-effects should not be celebrated,” the researchers wrote.

“The major public health benefits of reduced coal and oil burning, over just one month are, however, a striking demonstration of the benefit to public health and quality of life if European decision-makers prioritise clean air, clean energy and clean transport in their plans to recover from the crisis, and reduce coal and oil consumption in a rapid and sustainable way.”

The countries with the largest reductions in NO2 pollution levels were Portugal, Spain, Norway, Croatia, France, Italy and Finland. The largest reductions in particulate matter pollution took place in Portugal, Greece, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Finland and Spain.

Coal power plants in Britain have not been generating power for more than two weeks, the study said.