Improved Air Quality During First Wave of COVID-19 Prevented Around 150 Premature Deaths in Major Spanish Cities


For the first time, researchers have estimated the impact of lockdown-related air pollution reduction on mortality in 47 provincial capital cities

Air quality in Spain temporarily improved during the first wave of COVID-19, largely as a result of mobility restrictions. Until recently, however, the effect of this improvement on the health of the population was poorly understood. A new study led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a centre supported by the ”la Caixa” Foundation, together with the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC-CNS), has estimated that this improvement in air quality prevented around 150 premature deaths in Spain’s provincial capital cities.

Several analyses have estimated the mortality reduction from improved air quality during lockdown periods in China and Europe and found that a substantial number of premature deaths have been avoided. The new study, published in Environmental Pollution, is the first to focus on Spain, specifically 47 provincial capitals. First, the researchers assessed changes in levels of air pollution—nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone (O3)—during the lockdown period (57 days) and deconfinement period (42 days) of the first wave of COVID-19, which occurred between March and June 2020. The team then estimated the impact of these air quality changes on mortality at the population level.

Lead author Hicham Achebak, a researcher at ISGlobal and at the Centre for Demographic Studies (CED), explained the methodology used in the study. “We used machine-learning techniques to take into account the influence of meteorological factors when quantifying the effect of lockdown on air quality levels,” he noted. “To estimate changes in mortality, we specifically fitted epidemiological models based on historical health and air pollution data in each provincial capital city.”

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