True, the global environment and air quality were improved due to reduced human activities during the pandemic. But, it will not last long if we switch to business as usual.
Recent scientific reports confirm that reduced human activities brought positive impact to the environment. Clean Air Network compiled the data from EPD and found a reduction of roadside air pollution for up to 32% since the CNY, as more working population has shifted to work from home.
In short future, we may continue to keep social distancing and be benefited from reduced traffic and hence cleaner air. Academia and policy makers across the world, on the other hand, began to debate on how to strike a balance between combating disease and protecting the economy. It may suggest that the world is not ready to keep most population indoor indefinitely while ensuring normal functioning of the society.
On the verge for cities to resume to the ‘norms’, we may look at a recent study conducted by Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. Previous studies prove the strong association between exposure to air pollution and increased risk of developing acute respiratory distress syndrome. This analysis went further and showed that increase in air pollution level in the years before the pandemic is associated with a 15% increase in the Covid-19-related death rate.
We have to realize any mismanagement of air pollution would put additional strain on our tight public healthcare resources. The HKU’s Hedley Environmental Index estimates air pollution in Hong Kong causes additional 130 thousand hospital bed days, 2.3 million doctor visits, 1,700 premature deaths, and HK$21 billion economic loss in 2019 – a gigantic societal cost that could have be prevented.
In recent weeks, the HKSAR Government demonstrated the magnitude of authority and resources it can manoeuvre in the name of public health. The general public wants to see the Government to show a comparable level of determination to tackle air pollution, one of the top environmental health risks affecting everyone.
There are upcoming windows for the Government to act decisively – Formulate an aggressive Clean Air Plan that sets a high bar for our regional counterparts to follow. Develop a competitive EV Roadmap that catches up the progress of other global cities. Make Zero Emission buses, trucks, and other vehicles possible. Limit the growth of vehicular fleet. Achieving these goals will clean up our air for a bit longer.