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Blue Skies and Clean Air

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

Are you not coughing because you don’t have Coronavirus or is it just due to the cleaner air?

It is June 5, which is World Environment Day when we should throw some light upon the impact Coronavirus has created on the Environment and urged people to say “We, the humans, are the virus.”

India observed a 35-day complete lockdown in order to flatten the Coronavirus curve. There were no cars, trains, motorbikes or buses on the road. This surely did good to the air pollution levels in our country which even surprised the experts. It has made us see that our actions can very well impact the Earth’s sustainability.

People shared pictures of spotless skies and even Himalayan peaks from cities where the view had been obscured by fog for decades.

In the capital, New Delhi, government data shows the average concentration of PM 2.5 plunged by 71% in the space of a week -- falling from 91 micrograms per cubic meter on March 20, to 26 on March 27, after the lockdown began. The World Health Organization considers anything above 25 to be unsafe. Less than six months ago, Delhi was gasping for breath. Authorities said air quality had reached "unbearable levels". Schools were shut, flights were diverted, and people were asked to wear masks, avoid polluted areas and keep doors and windows closed. In Greater Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, a similar trend has been observed as NO2 levels from March 25 to May 2 averaged 77 µmol/m2 compared to 117 µmol/m2 from March 1 to March 24. In 2019, NO2 levels from March 25 to May 2 averaged 122 µmol/m2.

It is a lockdown silver lining being repeated across the world, as toxic megacities such as Bangkok, Beijing, São Paulo and Bogotá, where varying Coronavirus restrictions have been imposed, all reported an unprecedented decline in pollution. Yet it is countered with one cruel irony: with most residents of these cities strictly confined to their homes, few have any way to appreciate this newly fresh air, except through an open window or a during a speedy trip to the supermarket.

Although, Dr. Shashi Tharoor, a politician and author who has been vocal on environmental issues, said he hoped that it was a wake-up call. “The blissful sight of blue skies and the joy of breathing clean air provides just the contrast to illustrate what we are doing to ourselves the rest of the time,” said Tharoor.

We had also heard that the hole in the ozone layer which was first identified by scientists in March earlier this year had also started declining. Sharing a post on the micro-blogging website, Copernicus ECMWF wrote, "The unprecedented 2020 northern hemisphere #OzoneHole has come to an end. The #PolarVortex split, allowing #ozone-rich air into the Arctic, closely matching last week's forecast from the #CopernicusAtmosphere Monitoring Service."

However, the closing of the hole has nothing to do too with the reduction in levels of pollution amid lockdown. It's because of the polar vortex, high-altitude currents that are responsible for bringing cold air to polar regions. Such holes in the ozone layer are quite common above the Antarctic at the South Pole especially during July to September but, the ozone layer hole above the Arctic at this time was unusual.

India has one of the highest rates of respiratory disease in the world and the world's highest number of tuberculosis cases. Such widespread lung damage could potentially increase the risks associated with the Coronavirus. We are not sure whether the lockdown would succeed in stemming the spread of COVID-19. But, for the environment, it is clearly a “time to heal.”

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