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Italy air pollution plunges amid national COVID-19 quarantine

Saturday, March 14th 2020, 4:36 pm - A nation-wide quarantine is in effect as the country grapples with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Europe.

Italy has fared the worst out of all European countries amid the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. The Italian government first enacted a quarantine in the populous and heavily developed north, then expanded the quarantine to cover the entire nation on Monday.

With such measures in place, along with bans on public gatherings also announced Monday, the corresponding fall in industrial activity and road traffic has corresponded with a drastic drop in air pollution that has been visible from space.

That's according to the European Space Agency's Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, which tracked nitrogen dioxide emissions over the continent from January 1 until March 11. You can see the results in the video above, which shows a clear decline in air pollution in northern Italy's Po Valley, the most industrialized part of the country.

“Although there could be slight variations in the data due to cloud cover and changing weather, we are very confident that the reduction in emissions that we can see, coincides with the lockdown in Italy causing less traffic and industrial activities," Claus Zehner, the manager of the Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission, said in a release from the ESA.

The Copernicus Sentinel-5P's onboard tropomi instrument measures worldwide levels of nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and aerosols. The ESA makes the results publicly available through its open data policy.

Italy has so far suffered the most from the COVID-19 outbreak. As of Saturday, the country had more than 21,000 cases, the most of any European country and the second-highest worldwide after China, which was reporting 80,000 cases. The number of deaths, about 1,400, is also the second highest in the world, and almost half of the Chinese total of around 3,100.

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Italy is not the only country whose air quality and emissions have taken a dive in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a study released last month by Finland's Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air, China's CO2 emissions dropped by around 100 million tonnes over a three week period. That amounted to a 25 per cent decline in the country's total emissions, and six per cent of the worldwide total.

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