Covid-19: Some international cities now exceed pre-pandemic air pollution levels


As much of the world went into lockdown through April and May 2020, one positive piece of news was the dramatic dips in air pollution levels seen, largely brought about by the reduction in transportation use – but now some cities have seen the situation thrown into reverse.

Although the pandemic continues, lockdown travel restrictions have been lifted, but it would appear that, in some cities, people are jumping into their cars in larger numbers than ever before, perhaps due to nervousness about using public transport. At least, that is what the latest air pollution figures from Instant Offices suggest.

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Cape Town, Madrid, Melbourne, Los Angeles and Beijing are all now seeing higher levels of PM2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometres) than they did before lockdown.

“Earlier this year, we saw an unprecedented pause in global activity as most countries went into lockdown to stop the spread of Covid-19,” says John Williams, head of marketing at The Instant Group. “Just two weeks in, PM2.5 levels plunged across some of the world’s busiest cities, leading to improved air quality, increased visibility and even some historical moments, like the Himalaya’s becoming visible for the first time in 30 years in India.

“Now, as life slowly returns to normal around the world, our air quality comparison across 15 major cities reveals that while some are still benefitting from cleaner air, others have seen pollution skyrocket.”

The good news is that 10 of the 15 cities studied are seeing continuing reductions in PM2.5 compared to pre-lockdown levels. London, for example, which has seen significant investment in active travel, showed PM2.5 average levels of 39 in June-July compared to 49 in February-March.

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About Author


Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).