Do the positive effects of the Corona Lock-Down offset the health issues caused by the pandemic?
A deeper analysis for Munich
The COVID-19 pandemic has infected about 13 million people and claimed more than 550 thousand deaths worldwide by 14 July 2020. It has been reported in research that high air pollution may be “one of the most important contributors to deaths from COVID-19”. Studies show a positive correlation between particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide to health damage and, more specifically, to diseases related to the lungs like pneumonia, which makes people suffering from these ailments more susceptible to COVID 19. On the other hand, due to the lockdown measures, significant improvement in air quality has been witnessed.
Munich, the capital of Bavaria, the third-largest city in Germany
The city has a very high per capita vehicle ownership of about 550 cars/Inhabitants. The population increase within the limited space and high traffic put a stress on the environment of the city. The high levels of traffic and congestion lead to noise and high air pollution. According to the Federal Environmental Agency of Germany, Munich is the second most polluted city in Germany after Stuttgart.
To assess the improvement in air quality due to the COVID 19 lockdown in Munich, 40 NO2 collector and 5 Bavarian Air Hygiene Surveillance System (LÜB) station data were analyzed. NO2 is taken as a pollutant for the study as it is a primary air pollutant released from vehicular and industrial sources. Lockdown measures necessitated people to stay home in order to maintain social distancing norms and this naturally lead to a significant drop in vehicular traffic. The hypothesis is that during the lockdown, due to less vehicles on roads there should be a reduction in NO2 in the city.
As pollution is also dependent on weather parameters, to have homogeneity, a comparison is made on the values of the first quarter(January to April) of 2020 with the first quarter of 2019. Monitoring station values provide measurements for specific locations. Therefore, spatial Interpolation techniques like kriging helped in estimating the pollution level at an unmeasured location. Kriging interpolation can be used to create spatial maps for a city using monitoring station data.
First, NO2 collector locations were identified using Google Earth and their latitude and longitude was noted. **Then the values of the first quarter of 2019 and 2020 were retrieved from the website of the city of Munich. Next, spatial maps were created in R for both years. Finally, the difference was calculated to see the change in air quality from 2020 to 2019. The graph below shows the spatial map for 2019 and 2020 as well as their difference.
Our results show that for most of the area, NO2 concentration decreased in some areas we saw reductions up to 8 μg/m3. The city centre is usually the most polluted area in the city due to its high population density, and being a hot spot for all major commercial activities like cafes, restaurants, tourist attractions, etc. NO2 concentrations in the city centre often exceed the European annual limit value of 40 μg/m3. During the lockdown we can see a significant improvement in the city centre’s air quality as there was less influx of people and cars in the area.
We see unfortunate deaths due to COVID19, but the people of Munich have experienced cleaner air during the lockdown, which might have indirectly prevented a number of deaths. According to the European Environmental Agency, nitrogen dioxide causes more than 12,800 deaths annually in Germany. From the estimates of the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) due to the corona containment measure or lockdown, Germany avoided about 2083 deaths. This result should encourage the concerned authorities to have cleaner air as an essential part of their future policies and plans.
Recommended reading “NO2 Concentration during Lockdown in Munich”
- European Environment Agency (2017) Air quality in Europe — 2017, EEA Technical Report. doi: 10.2800/850018.
- Munich | CIVITAS (2020). Available at: https://civitas.eu/eccentric/munich (Accessed: 22 June 2020).
- Ogen, Y. (2020) ‘Assessing nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels as a contributing factor to coronavirus (COVID-19) fatality’, Science of the Total Environment. Elsevier B.V., 726, p. 138605. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.138605.
- Watts, J. (2020) Clean air in Europe during lockdown ‘leads to 11,000 fewer deaths’, The Guardian. Available at: https://amp-theguardian-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/amp.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/30/clean-air-in-europe-during-lockdown-leads-to-11000-fewer-deaths (Accessed: 20 June 2020).
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