Healthy Lungs for Life

Lockdown reduces air pollution-related deaths

A summary of research published in The Lancet

Exposure to poor air quality can cause heart and lung conditions and lead to early death. This year has provided a unique opportunity to study the impact of large reductions in air pollution. With many people staying at home for weeks or months during the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have been able to look at how this lockdown improved air quality and whether this had an impact on health.

What did the study look at?

A new modelling study, published in The Lancet, collected information on the levels of a pollutant called fine particulate matter. This pollutant is known to have a negative impact on health. They looked at the levels of fine particulate matter in the air from more than 2,500 locations in Europe and China during 2016-2020.

To estimate the short-term impact that air pollution has on health, the researchers used data from several recent studies showing the daily number of deaths and hospital admissions. For the estimates on long-term effects on health, they looked at different scenarios of recovery from the pandemic. These included the potential for second outbreaks, permanent lockdowns and immediate or gradual resumption of activities.

What do the results show?

The results of the modelling suggest that, in the short term:

  • 24,200 early deaths were avoided in China between 1 February 2020 and 31 March 2020
  • 2,190 deaths were avoided in Europe between 21 February 2020 and 17 May 2020.

And in the long term:

  • Between 76,400 and 287,000 deaths could be avoided in China, and between 13,600 and 29,500 in Europe, depending on how each area recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why is this important?

These results show that the restrictions and lockdown measures during the COVID-19 pandemic led to large reductions of fine particulate matter across Europe and China. The findings demonstrate the importance of clean air policies to reduce early deaths and suggest that improvements in air quality are needed through tough emission control policies.

Read the original research paper

Title: Short-term and long-term health impacts of air pollution reductions from COVID-19 lockdowns in China and Europe: a modelling study

More information on air quality and lung health

ELF factsheet: Air quality and lung health – the risks

Healthy Lungs for Life website.