A kinder world, cleaner air, clearer water — the Covid-19 effect

Pollution monitoring satellites by NASA and ESA have detected significant decreases in NO2 over China since the lockdown


AN ESTIMATED three billion people are currently living under lockdown around the world to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Non-essential businesses have been shut down and movements are limited as frontliners battle around the clock against the disease called Covid-19.

Cities become a ghost town at night, the buzz sound of factories’ machines are going silent and once busy airports are now running empty.

Economies are in despair and the dreaded recession seems to be looming.

The world is at war, quite literally, as armies have been called for duty.

Only this time the enemy is beyond the naked eye and the battlefields are hospitals, laboratories and city streets.

War cries, if you will, at this time are “social distancing”, “flatten the curve”, “self-quarantine” and “work from home”.

At the time of writing, more than 82,421 casualties have been recorded in 206 countries and territories out of over 1.44 million confirmed cases of Covid-19.

Malaysia registered 65 deaths as of yesterday from 4,119 cases.

But when things look black, there is always a silver lining.

Over 2,300 people in Malaysia have registered to become volunteers to work in hospitals and low- risk quarantine and treatment centres in the country, according to Health DG Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

Individuals and corporations have also come forward to contribute funds, ventilators, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other in-kind aids to the frontliners.

The government received RM4.25 million cash donations and RM26 million worth of medical equipment from six corporate entities as reported on March 30 and more are coming in besides numerous funds launched by private parties.

Good Samaritans are reaching out to marginalised groups of people, while innovators get creative to make do-it-yourself PPEs for health workers.

Of all these positive vibes, one theme to summarise them is that the virus has displaced polarisation in the country with solidarity within the multi-racial community.

On a global scale, the need for concerted effort will be much more evident as the virus knows no barrier, that even some of the world’s most advanced nations now find themselves under siege by the pandemic, worse than third world countries.

Multiple countries have forged cooperation to create a vaccine for the virus, while cross-border aids are flown in despite border closures.

As the world is “resting”, people say, one unintended benefit is that the air is cleaner.

Pollution monitoring satellites by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have detected significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over China, citing partly related to the economic slowdown following the virus outbreak.

Satellite images showed that the concentration of NO2, a noxious gas emitted by motor vehicles, power plants, and industrial facilities, was lower after cities were locked down in China.

According to NASA scientists, the reduction in NO2 pollution was first apparent near Wuhan, China, but eventually spread across the country.

“This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre air quality researcher Fei Liu said in a statement last month.

NASA said the drop in NO2 in 2020 also coincided with Chinese New Year celebrations in China and much of Asia, as businesses and factories close from the last week in January into early February.

Granted, the researchers believed the decrease was more than a holiday effect or weather-related variation.

“This year, the reduction rate is more significant than in past years and it has lasted longer. I am not surprised because many cities nationwide have taken measures to minimise the spread of the virus,” Liu added.

Similarly, the ESA said satellite image observations showed strong reductions in NO2 concentrations over several major cities across Europe including Paris, Milan, Madrid and Rome.

“By combining data for a specific period, 10 days in this case (March 14 to 25), the meteorological variability partly averages out and we begin to see the impact of changes due to human activity,” Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute scientist Henk Eskes said in a statement.

Additionally, reports emerged saying that the water in the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy, has transformed from murky to clear as no more tourists are flocking the city.

Operation of boats, water taxis and the popular Venice gondolas are halted as the country is placed under lockdown.

Spain and Italy have become one the epicentres of the virus outside China with 141,942 cases and 135,596 respectively, while the number in the US had surged to 400,549 cases.

Social media users shared pictures of white swans reclaiming the canals and even dolphins were sighted swimming in the river.

According to Bloomberg, the world’s dirtiest air has also gotten cleaner after India’s lockdown!

The world is healing, but scientists warn that it may be short-lived when normalcy returns.

The pandemic will be gone sooner or later and humans will again be held accountable post-Covid-19.