Air pollution plunges in India as coronavirus lockdown continues

Air pollution plunges in India with smog-hit Delhi seeing blue skies and rare ‘good’ air quality reading as coronavirus lockdown continues

  • The Air Quality Index showed air quality levels below 50, or ‘good’, in Delhi, which is a rare thing for the capital
  • More than 90 other cities also understood to have recorded minimal air pollution during Covid-19 lockdown
  • Environmental campaigners in India have urged the government to recognise recent event as ‘wake-up call’
  • India has recorded some 1,071 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 disease, and 29 deaths, as of figures today 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Air pollution in India has plummeted to its lowest levels amid the coronavirus lockdown, in stark contrast to record high levels last year. 

People in Delhi, the country’s capital, awoke to clear blue skies at the weekend, a matter of days into the nationwide lockdown owing to Covid-19.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) indicated levels below 50, or ‘good’, prompting calls for authorities to ensure pollution levels stay down in future. 

More than 90 cities in India recorded minimal levels of air pollution during the same period.

A photo taken in Delhi at the weekend where the skies cleared due to dramatic decreases in pollution. Here, a group of workers hitch a ride to their job on the back of a small truck. 

Another weekend photo, here showing a clear road from the Covid-19 lockdown, beneath a clear blue sky. No one is permitted to travel, except in ‘essential’ circumstances

People on a smoggy Rajpath boulevard as the India Gate monument is almost completely gone – November 2019

An eerie photo from November 2019 showing a man crossing the street enveloped in thick smog

Despite the improved skyline, residents were not able to enjoy it because they are confined indoors while the pandemic rages the world over. 

India has a national population of some 1.3 billion people. It has recorded 1,071 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 disease, and 29 deaths, as of today, according to research conducted by Johns Hopkins University. 

‘Isn’t it ironic that coronavirus has caused a massive drop in vehicular pollution (to help our lungs breathe clean air again) in Delhi, but it will attack those very lungs if we’re not careful?’ one person wrote on Twitter.

‘What a gorgeous day in Delhi,’ another wrote.

‘Delhi pollution decreasing day by day and it’s all due to coronavirus,’ wrote another. 

The capital Delhi dominated the headlines in 2019 for recording the highest levels of air pollution in the world.

The city’s pollution soared to hazardous levels in November last year, with a toxic grey smog obscuring the Delhi skyline and its monuments.

The pollution was so bad, local authorities declared a public health emergency, shutting down flights and schools.  

Breathing the air in Delhi during that time for just one day was equivalent to smoking ‘at least 25 cigarettes,’ according to Time.

Taken in November 2019. Motorists seen here on a road in New Delhi completely enveloped in the dangerous grey smog

Another November 2019 photo, illustrating the catastrophic levels of pollution in New Delhi

An aerial photo showing the heavy smog covering the capital city of Delhi in November 2019

Some environmental campaigners have urged India’s government to implement solid policies to tackle the country’s air pollution, calling recent events a ‘wake-up call’, according to the BBC. 

They also urged the government to halt its ‘obsession’ with ‘development’ to the detriment of the environment, according to NDTV. 

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi ushered in the coronavirus lockdown, urging people to avoid unnecessary travel.

The significantly reduced traffic on the roads across India is having a profound impact on the nation’s air quality.

A woman seen here in New Delhi wearing a face mask as she waits for public transport in November 2019

Another New Delhi resident seen in November 2019 riding his bike through thick smog on the roads 

Delhi has also seen a 30 percent reduction in fine particulate pollutant as a result of the lockdown, and a 15 percent drop has been recorded in Ahmedabad and Pune, according to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research.

Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) pollution has also gone down in several cities across India.

‘It is the lockdown impact. Local factors like shutting down of industries and construction and traffic have contributed in improving the air quality,’ said Gufran Beig, a scientist at SAFAR. 

‘Rain is also helping, but the curbs on local emissions are playing a significant role.’

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