Cleaner hands, bluer skies: What coronavirus did to us

The coronavirus pandemic has brought many environmental benefits.

By Author  |  Published: 25th Mar 2020  6:40 pm

Tokyo: Deaths, economic meltdown and a planet on lockdown: the coronavirus pandemic has brought us waves of bad news, but squint and you might just see a few bright spots. From better hygiene that has reduced other infectious diseases to people reaching out as they self-isolate, here are some slivers of silver linings during a bleak moment.

The message from health professionals has been clear from the start of the outbreak: wash your hands. Everyone from celebrities to politicians has had a go at demonstrating correct technique — including singing “Happy Birthday” twice through to make sure you scrub long enough, and hand sanitiser has flown off the shelves. All that extra hygiene appears to be paying off, at least in some countries, including Japan, where the number of flu cases appears to be sharply down.

Japan recorded 7.21 million cases by early March — usually around the peak of the flu season that runs until May. That was far below figures for previous years, including the 21.04 million infections seen during the 2017/18 season. “We estimate that one of the reasons behind it is that people are now much more aware about the need to wash hands… given the spread of the new coronavirus,” Japanese health ministry official Daisha Inoue said.

Factory shutdowns, travel bans and a squeeze on demand spell economic disaster, but it isn’t all bad news for the environment. In the four weeks to March 1, China’s CO2 emissions fell 200 million tonnes, or 25 percent, compared to the same period last year, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. Once the health crisis is over, experts expect countries will double down to try to make up for lost time, with climate change concerns likely to be sidelined in a race to recover economic growth.