Chart of the day: What happens to urban air quality when lockdowns lift?

Clear water is seen in Venice's canals due to fewer tourists, motorboats and pollution, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Venice, Italy, March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri - RC2DMF9DWB3G

Lockdowns have reduced pollution levels across the world. Image: REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri

Douglas Broom
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  • Coronavirus lockdowns have caused dramatic falls in air pollution in big cities.
  • With factories closed and cars off the road, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentration has significantly dropped.
  • But as restrictions were eased in Wuhan, China in early April, pollution levels shot back up to 2019 levels.
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Lockdowns have improved air quality in cities around the world. Image: Statista

The air in the world’s biggest cities has become more breathable as coronavirus lockdowns have halted traffic and closed factories. But new data shows that as restrictions are gradually lifted, pollution levels are likely to rise again.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a pollutant emitted by vehicles and factories, so levels fell when activity slowed. The most dramatic effect has been seen in New Delhi, where traffic usually generates a persistent smog. For the first time in decades, residents have been enjoying clear skies.

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But as statistics from Wuhan, China show, once activity resumes, pollution starts to rise again. As restrictions were lifted in the city in early April, air quality began to plummet and pollution returned to 2019 levels.

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COVID-19Air PollutionFuture of the Environment
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