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Coronavirus quarantines have reduced air pollution in China. An expert says that won't last long.

Lauren Frias , Business Insider US
 Mar 20, 2020, 08:45 AM
The Chinese city of Wuhan was deserted as government officials put it on lockdown.
Getty Images
  • The coronavirus outbreak has officials implementing quarantines and nationwide lockdowns in a bid to stem the spread of the disease.
  • In China, officials imposed unprecedented quarantines on tens of millions of people, including 11 million residents in the city of Wuhan - the original epicenter of the outbreak.
  • The resulting reduction in traffic and production led to a subsequent decrease in emissions and air pollution in the country. But that most likely won't be the case for long.
  • Lauri Myllyvirta, the lead analyst at Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air in Helsinki, Finland, told Insider that companies in China could ramp up production to compensate for the previous losses.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

The coronavirus outbreak has left the world at a standstill as quarantines and other measures are implemented to contain the spread of the disease COVID-19.

The novel coronavirus has been gripping populations on a global scale: It has infected more than 181,000 people, and the death toll has surpassed 7,000 worldwide.

In China, where the outbreak began late last year, officials imposed unprecedented quarantines and lockdowns on tens of millions of people, including 11 million residents in the outbreak's original epicenter, the city of Wuhan.

The outbreak continued through the Lunar New Year, a pivotal cultural holiday in the country, which typically comes with parades, festivals, and plenty of travel.

See also: Covid-19 update: bars must now close at 6PM; spreading fake news with intent can mean jail

While the resulting reduction in traffic and production led to a subsequent decrease in emissions and air pollution in the country - that most likely won't be the case for long.

Lauri Myllyvirta, the lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air in Helsinki, Finland, told Insider the satellite-based measure of nitrogen-dioxide levels were down about 35% compared with the same four-week period after the Lunar New Year holiday last year.

NASA recorded a sustained drop in the levels of noxious nitrogen dioxide after the Lunar New Year.
NASA
Myllyvirta said key sources of NO2 emissions in China were "coal-burning in factories and power plants and oil-burning in transport and industry."

"All of these sectors have been dramatically affected by the measures to contain the virus: Most factories have been closed or running at low capacity, either because of restrictions on operation or because employees haven't been able to return from holidays, or because of lack of demand," Myllyvirta said.

While the impact could continue for weeks or months, Myllyvirta said the low emissions might not last, as companies could ramp up production to compensate for previous losses.

"If the government holds onto the GDP growth target for the year, that could mean launching a massive construction program to prop up GDP," he said. "This is what happened after the global financial crisis in 2009."

"Any real rebound will take much longer to materialise - in the stimulus scenario, it would be the second half of the year when the impacts would start to be felt, as it would take time for all those projects the provinces are currently putting on their wish lists to actually materialise," he continued, adding that it would most likely show by next winter.

While the low emissions level is most likely temporary, Myllyvirta said China's emissions regulations had progressed since the 2009 financial crisis, "so it's not a return to those 'smogocalypse' levels, but making up for the drop-off in GDP with construction projects would mean burning a lot of coal, so it would not be pretty."

For more information direct from the source, see also:

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