Is the coronavirus actually saving lives?
Clearly the coronavirus itself is definitely not saving lives, but the lockdown caused by it could be. One of the main reasons countries have restrictions is to decrease the number of deaths caused by the coronavirus and in many areas it seems to be working overall. However, many of the statistics are from hospitals only and not the community and the lockdown is preventing some people who need medical attention from seeking it for various reasons. It is clear that the coronavirus is killing thousands of people but the lockdown is most likely decreasing the number overall, but could there be even more life saving benefits of lockdown?
The environment appears to have benefited from our suffering - how the tables have turned. Not only are there reports of wildlife returning to places they'd not been seen for years but also, thanks to a dramatic decrease in all forms of travel and the shutting down of many factories and businesses, there are worldwide reports of significantly reduced air pollution.
The reduction is so big that its not just satellites that can see the improvement, but people too. In India the Himalayas can be seen for the first time in 'decades', whilst most city skylines are clearer than ever.
But what's this got to do with saving lives? Well, the number of deaths from ailments caused by air pollution according to the world health organisation (WHO) is about 3 million a year. The death toll worldwide (at time of writing, 28/04/2020) from the coronavirus is around 211,000. While this is still a very large number which will continue to grow for a while but it is unlikely that it'll surpass 3 million this year. The reduction in air pollution doesn't mean people all of a sudden stop dying from air pollution related ailments immediately, and it is too soon to tell whether the reduction in air pollution will impact that 3 million a year estimate. We also have to ask how long will air pollution be low for and whether a short break will actually have any impact at all.
The chances are that if the world goes back to 'business as usual' after this pandemic that the air pollution will rise just as quickly as it fell. China is already reporting an increase in air pollution after easing lockdown restrictions. But this doesn't have to be the case and some places are seeing this as an opportunity to create a new normal. Milan, for example, have introduced an ambitious scheme to reallocate street space from cars to cycling and walking. They hope this will encourage less motor traffic once restrictions are lifted. Undoubtedly, air pollution will rise once restrictions are lifted but they may not have to rise back to the heights it was before.
This virus has shown that people are capable of many things and can adapt quickly to certain situations. Therefore businesses could adapt to be more environmentally friendly and new businesses selling eco-friendly products can contribute massively to the economy. More eco-friendly forms of travel could be used more often. People could start working from home more often so they don't have to travel to and from work as often and contribute to air pollution. Many businesses have adapted well to this crisis and instead of go back to 'normal' they could adapt to be more environmentally friendly, whilst continuing to thrive.
This means that the world can continue to improve the environment as well as improve the economy, which has been dramatically impacted by the coronavirus for various reasons. I have no doubt that the economy will pick up again once people are allowed to travel again but hopefully not to a big detriment to the environment.
Times at the moment are very hard and people are missing not only friends and family but also freedom to go, buy and do whatever they want. People are however starting to appreciate everything they do have and realising what is truly essential. Perhaps, once this is over and with a little help from the government, we can continue to make changes to our lives but this time for the climate crisis.