Rumor has it that the coronavirus will save more lives than it cost. The reason? The drop of pollution from Covid-19 epidemic.

So, good news or fake news?

China is experiencing a drop in pollution and days of good air quality.

In February 2020, according to Nasa, the drop of pollution from the Covid-19 epidemic is about 30% in China. Compared to last year, this resulted in 25% more “good quality days”. When we know that about 7 million people die every year from exposure to fine particles in polluted air, the figures seem to bring good news.

NASA has provided satellite imagery that shows the phenomenon :

Polution during covid-19 in China seen from satellites

Pollution is a daily concern in China

Living in China means living very foggy days. To know the level of pollution, many apps exist. They often recommend that the population remain confined because of the level of particles in the air.

As the screenshot I took from the AirVisual Air Quality Forecast application when I was living in Shanghai this year, you can see on the left that the pollution level was so high in October 2019 that it was advised to wear a mask or not to go outside for sensitive people.

Pollution drop in China during covid-19 crisis

On the right you can see that recently the situation has greatly improved. This led scientists to question whether the Covid-19 outbreak saved more lives than it cost.

Is Covid-19 saving lives?

This is what professor Gemenne said in an appearance on France 24’s The Debate. His intervention was widely quoted when he said “more than likely the number of lives that would be spared because of these confinement measures would be higher than the number of lives that would be lost because of the pandemic”.

However, this claim is contested because of its short-sightedness. Jill Baumgartner, an epidemiologist at McGill University, says the impact of the virus is not just measured by the number of deaths. The impact on the health system and the stress caused to the population must also be taken into account.

Another aspect is the demand for oil that will follow the Covid-19 crisis. According to the oil-trading firm Trafigura, the demand for oil has not been as great since the 2008 crisis. The announcement predicts a major financial crisis. The probable signal of a human disaster.

So does the decrease in pollution today because of this global pandemic mean that it’s good for health? Not really. But in the face of this crisis, we come to wonder : is our world going to change? where our health priorities lie when we see that air pollution affects many more people than the coronavirus?