Virus shutdown will reduce air pollution

Few cars on the road during the COVID-19 pandemic will see a reduction in air pollution.
Few cars on the road during the COVID-19 pandemic will see a reduction in air pollution.

Australia's air pollution and carbon emission levels could be on the way down due to restrictions imposed to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Experts are seeing fewer cars on the road as more people work from home and tougher restrictions are announced for public gatherings.

Australian National University Global Environmental Health Professor Sotiris Vardoulakis said on Tuesday restrictions on movement would result in reduced car emissions.

"There will be a reduction in air pollution as a result," he told AAP.

"It's an important benefit for the environment and for public health."

Prof Vardoulakis said there would likely be long-term changes to the way businesses and people operate as a result of the pandemic.

"There will be a huge long-term shift to more distant work, home working and home schooling, as well as telemedicine and online shopping," Prof Vardoulakis said.

Footage released in March by the European Space Agency shows China and Italy have seen a drop in pollution levels since they shut down operations or went into lockdown because of COVID-19.

Prof Vardoulakis said there would be further reductions in air pollution if Australia followed suit but they wouldn't be as extensive as those seen in heavily-industrialised countries.

Queensland University of Technology Professor Lidia Morawska echoed those remarks, saying any decrease in air pollution would be more significant in big cities with more traffic.

The International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health director said any reduction in traffic would result in a decrease in air pollution and a lowering of Australia's carbon footprint.

"I am sure that we can already see this across Australian cities," Prof Morawska last week told AAP in a statement.

CSIRO Climate Science Centre senior research scientist Dr Melita Keywood said widespread changes as a result of COVID-19 could lead to a decline in the atmosphere of particles, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and possibly sulfur dioxide and tropospheric ozone.

"It is very likely that there will be a global slowdown of greenhouse gas emissions, in particular carbon dioxide emissions, due to reduced energy consumption," Dr Keywood told AAP in a statement.

Dr Arunima Malik from the University of Sydney's School of Physics said the largest drop in pollution levels occurred in cities that went into complete lockdown like Wuhan in China.

Wuhan was late last year the source of the virus' outbreak.

Australian Associated Press