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Better air quality caused by the Covid-19 lockdown has led to more than 1,700 deaths in the UK to be avoided, according to a study.

The Europe-wide report found that levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – produced by road traffic and heavy industry – have dropped by some 40% in the past 30 days and that there has been a 10% reduction in the average level of particulate matter pollution.

It has caused an estimated 11,000 deaths related to air pollution to be avoided across the UK, including an estimated 1,752 in the UK – the second-highest number in the study behind Germany (2,083).

However, the numbers are dwarfed by the Covid-19 death death toll across Europe, including the UK where fatalities passed 26,000 yesterday and are set to rise further.

The study, by the Finland-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), found there had been a 37% drop in power generation from coal across Europe as a result of the lockdowns, while oil consumption had fallen by some 33%.

Other avoided health impacts included 6,000 fewer new cases of asthma in children, 1.3 million fewer days of work absence, 1,900 avoided emergency room visits caused by asthma attacks, and 600 fewer premature births, the study said.

The study’s authors Lauri Myllyvirta and Hubert Thieriot said their analysis used detailed air quality statistical modelling to separate the effects of weather conditions and changes in emissions. The researchers wrote:

The Covid-19 crisis has brought about untold human suffering, and its side-effects should not be celebrated.

“The major public health benefits of reduced coal and oil burning, over just one month are, however, a striking demonstration of the benefit to public health and quality of life if European decision-makers prioritise clean air, clean energy and clean transport in their plans to recover from the crisis, and reduce coal and oil consumption in a rapid and sustainable way.”

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