We have been reading for months about the tragedies of the COVID-19 outbreak, so it’s time to take a breath of fresh air and see all the positive news that have come about after these challenging times.

The reaction of governments and businesses to stop the spread of the virus has brought about side effects that are positive from the environmental point of view. Thanks to satellite imagery, scientists have been able to compare pollution levels from this year versus the same period last year, and the results are astounding. We see epidemic centers like China, South Korea, Italy, and the UK drop up to 50% of their nitrogen dioxide emissions, a noxious gas that is often linked with health problems like asthma. These emissions come from car engines, power plants and other industrial processes.

While nitrogen oxide is not a greenhouse gas by itself, it is closely linked with the industries that are responsible for high levels of carbon emissions. The overall reduction of pollutants in the air can benefit not only vulnerable people, such as asthma patients, but also raise the health levels of the general population who now have access to cleaner air. Agriculture can also benefit from this, since pollution is associated with stunting plant growth. 

The lockdown in many countries has seen a decrease in the production of coal energy. In China, there was a 36% decrease in consumption of coal-powered energy, at the height of its lockdown. This is a direct consequence of people working from home and commuting less to work, as well as a decrease in flights (some airlines have cancelled close to 100% of their flights during these times), and the suspension of many non-essential businesses.

Another positive aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic is that doctors, researchers and health experts are sharing and cooperating at a global scale. A clear example is when Cuba sent an ‘army’ of white-robbed doctors to Italy to help mitigate the health care crisis there. Never before have we seen the entire world work together to overcome a common challenge.

The lessons learnt by this epidemic are going to serve us well when the next one comes. Because let’s face it, epidemics happen and they will keep coming in the future; but thanks to this experience we will now be better prepared as a global community that is ready to tackle the threat of invisible germs and viruses. Fortunately for us, the coronavirus has a fatality rate that is relatively low compared to other infectious diseases, like the SARS or Ebola. The entire planet is learning a hard lesson, but one that can ultimately save us in the future if we face a fast spreading disease that can decimate not only the elderly but also younger generations.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is definitely not a drill, let’s use it as a warning and an opportunity to request politicians, representative and leaders to strengthen our health care systems and emergency protocols, so next time we can stop an epidemic from the start before it is too late.

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