Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the environment

Lockdowns, quarantines and border closures in the wake of the pandemic have led to reductions in air pollution through decreased travel and production.

Representational image (PHOTO: Pixabay)

The environment is an integral component of human and animal health. COVID-19 is a global health challenge in the twenty-first century. The worldwide disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in numerous impactson the environment and the climate. The COVID-19 pandemic has huge impacts on most aspects of human activities, as well as on the economy and health care systems. Lockdowns, quarantines and border closures in the wake of the pandemic have led to reductions in air pollution through decreased travel and production. These positive environmental effects are likely mostly temporary, but may serve as an example that changes in our way of life can have prompt positive effects for the environment and demonstrate the usefulness of travel-reducing measures such as teleconferencing.

Thus, acknowledging that COVID-19 is first and foremost a global disaster, the pandemic may inspire to future behavioral changes with positive environmental effects. The considerable decline in planned travel has caused many regions to experience a large drop in air pollution. Up to 2020, increases in the amount of greenhouse gases produced since the beginning of the industrialization era caused average global temperatures on the Earth to rise, causing effects including the melting of glaciers and rising sea levels. In various forms, human activity caused environmental degradation, an anthropogenic impact.

COVID-19 pandemic, researchers argued that reduced economic activity would help decrease global warming as well as air and marine pollution, allowing the environment to slowly flourish. Due to the coronavirus outbreak’s impact on travel and industry, many regions and the planet as a whole experienced a drop in air pollution. Reducing air pollution can reduce both climate change and COVID-19 risks. Air pollution affects climate and may induce drastic changes on ecosystems, which can also exacerbate infectious diseases outbreaks by affecting pathogens, hosts, vectors, and transmission dynamics. The country’s response to COVID-19 may have at least partially slowed this trend.

The COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a global health emergency with severe consequences for health and economy, but it can also serve as an example that changes in travel and production quickly and distinctly can improve air quality, and can reduce the carbon footprint which will translate to improved environmental health. It remains to be seen to what extent the changes brought on by the pandemic, such as increases in telecommuting and reduced travel, will remain once the immediate threat has passed.

On the other hand, the safe management of domestic waste could be critical during the COVID-19 emergency. Medical waste such as contaminated masks, gloves, used or expired medications, and other items can easily be mixed with domestic waste. However, they should be treated as hazardous waste and disposed of separately. Furthermore, this type of waste must be collected by specialized municipal operators or waste management operators (UN, 2020). Along these same lines, the UN Environment Program urged governments to treat waste management, including medical, domestic, and other waste, as an urgent and essential public service to minimize possible secondary health and environmental effects.

Obviously, the dramatic actions taken during the pandemic cannot be directly copied in non-pandemic times to achieve the positive benefits. However, we believe that lessons can be learned, and that inspiration can be gained from the fact that quick positive feedback is seen when action is taken. Finally, it is concluded that COVID-19 will produce both positive and negative indirect effects on the environment, but the latter will be greater. Decreasing GHG concentrations during a short period is not a sustainable way to clean up our environment. Furthermore, the virus crisis brings other environmental problems that may last longer and maybe more challenging to manage if countries neglect the impact of the epidemic on the environment.

(The views expressed are the writer’s own)

First Published:July 1, 2020, 12:48 a.m.

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