Air pollution in many UK cities is now exceeding pre-pandemic levels, exacerbating the risk of Covid-19 and putting the health of millions of people at risk.
A study released Thursday indicates that although air quality improved significantly in the first half of the year, as the country went into lockdown, pollution now exceeds pre-Covid levels in 80% of the 49 towns and cities analyzed.
There is growing evidence that exposure to toxic air increases the risk of Covid-19, and the study authors say their findings underscore the need for local councils to do more to reduce the risk. car use and improve air quality by prioritizing walking and cycling.
Andrew Carter, managing director of the Center for Cities think tank, which carried out the study, said the toxic air contributed to the deaths of thousands of Covid-19 victims this year and that even after the end of pandemic, he would remain a great threat to the public. health – especially for those who live in urban areas.
“City leaders can reduce the threat of air pollution, but it will take political will,” Carter said. “Discouraging car use will be unpopular in the short term, but on top of necessary improvements in public transport, the long-term benefits for public health and the economy will be enormous and our cities will become better places to live. no time for politicians to delay this.
The study results, based on an analysis of the latest data from Defra, reveal that while the spring lockdown has reduced nitrogen dioxide by 38% on average in 49 towns and cities, pre-pandemic levels had been reached or exceeded in four fifths of the places studied during the second half of 2020.
The authors say the surge in toxic air has been driven by an increase in the use of private cars and has occurred even though 98% of the country remains under severe Covid-19 restrictions. This raises fears that, as these measures are relaxed in the new year, air quality will deteriorate even further, with dire consequences for public health.
Since the pandemic struck, many local authorities have attempted to encourage walking and cycling by building cycle lanes and creating low-traffic neighborhoods to prevent drivers from “fleeing” residential areas.
But these efforts have met with stiff opposition from the pro-auto lobby and some disgruntled drivers. Some councils have already backed down, opening up new cycle paths, while others have put aside long-term plans to install low-emission zones, arguing that pollution levels have already come down due to the lockdown.
But Hubert Thieriot, of the Energy and Clean Air Research Center, said the new study underscored the need for local leaders across the country to step up efforts to limit the use of private cars as the country was coming out of lockdown restrictions.
He said the pandemic had caused “immense suffering on the health and social fronts,” but she also reminded the public “that air pollution is not for granted and bold actions in transport. could significantly improve people’s health and quality of life ”.
“The role of transport in air pollution in UK cities became evident to everyone during the Covid-related lockdowns,” Thieriot said. “This shared awareness offers decision makers a historic chance to implement bold transport policies.”