Story at a glance

  • Italy has been hit the hardest by the coronavirus pandemic in Europe.
  • Nitrogen dioxide is produced by cars, power plants and other industrial sources.
  • China, the country hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak, has seen sharp declines in pollution and greenhouse gases as well.

Air pollution over Italy is seeing a drop after the country introduced a nationwide lockdown in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 24,000 and left more than 1,800 people dead in the country

New data from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Copernicus Sentinel-5p satellite, which can measure concentrations of greenhouse gases and pollutants in the atmosphere, shows that between Jan. 1 and March 11, concentrations of nitrogen dioxide over Italy fell dramatically. In an animation released by the ESA, the reduction is especially visible in northern Italy, which has been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The decline in nitrogen dioxide emissions over the Po Valley in northern Italy is particularly evident,” Claus Zehner, ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission manager, said in a statement.

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“Although there could be slight variation in the data due to cloud cover and changing weather, we are very confident that the reduction in emissions that we can see coincides with the lockdown in Italy causing less traffic and industrial activities.”

Nitrogen dioxide is a noxious gas emitted by power plants, cars and other industrial sources. It also is a pollutant that can increase the risk of asthma, inflammation of the lungs and other harmful health issues. 

Italy remains the second most-heavily affected country in the world after China, where the coronavirus first emerged in December. Last week, the Italian government imposed nationwide restrictions to curb the virus spread, closing schools, businesses, sporting events and ordering people to stay home, except for essential travel. 

China has also shown a sharp reduction in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions after travel bans and quarantines were implemented in response to the virus. 

There have been more than 174,000 total confirmed cases with more than 6,700 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Published on Mar 16, 2020