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See the Corona of the Corona Virus Outbreak

The coronavirus (a.k.a COVID-19) and its associated quarantine and factory disruptions in China caused significant economic downturn on par with that seen in  the 2o08 Global Financial Crisis. But just as you can only see the beauty of our Sun’s corona during an eclipse, there is a brighter story developing as we live through the dark days of this corona virus outbreak.

The disruptions to factories reduced power demand and in turn reduced power generation required by coal power plants in China. NASA reported a significant drop in Nitrogen Dioxide levels in the atmosphere over china as can be seen in the image below.

NASA image of nitrogen dioxide levels over china between jan 2020 and feb 2020

Credit: NASA

Air Pollution related Deaths

World map showing air pollution death rate 2017

Credit: Our World In Data

In 2017, the death rate from air pollution, or the number of deaths per every 100,000 people in China caused by air pollution was between 50-75. Given that China has a population of 1.4 billion people, that equates to around 700,000 to 1.05 million people killed by air pollution in 2017. On a per day basis that equates to around 2000 – 2800 people killed by air pollution per day.

graph depicting reducing in air pollution death rate for various regions

Credit: Our World In Data

Up till 2017, China reduced air pollution death rate at a rate of 30% over 4 years. Assuming China has maintained this rate, a conservative estimate would have their pollution reduced by 22.5% from 2017 levels. This results in an air pollution death rate figure of 1500 – 2100 people per day for 2020.

According to a source cited by the guardian newspaper, the level of air pollution during the period from January 1 2020 to Feb 20 2020 is between 10% – 30% lower than expected. This figure factored in seasonal and Chinese Lunar New Year holiday effects. We can therefore conclude that the Corona Virus must be responsible for this reduction. In other words, the corona virus outbreak is responsible for saving between 150 – 630 people daily for this 50 day period or a total of around 7500 to 31500 lives saved due to a reduction in pollution.

As of this writing the current death toll caused by the corona virus is around 3000 people. While this may sound like a lot, it’s only half the number of the most conservative estimate of lives saved due to corona virus induced air pollution reduction.

Death By Numbers

Here’s a graph of the coronavirus death statistics.

graph of corona virus related deaths statistics

Credit: Worldometers.info

The slope of the graph flatten out after Feb 23. This suggests that the outbreak is coming under control, especially in China.

Experts say that warmer temperatures and higher humidity reduce the contagiousness of the COVID-19. As warmer temperatures come to the northern hemisphere, we expect the graph showing total number of deaths to flatten out.

With Chinese factories slowly restart operation, we expect that air pollution levels will slowly creep back to the expected levels. As a result, the number of air pollution related deaths will also trend back to their expected levels. Therefore the live saved on a daily basis by the reduction of air pollution will eventually trend to 0.

The above two trends lead to a clear conclusion. The rate of lives saved due to reduction in air pollution is higher than that of deaths caused by COVID-19. Therefore, we expect a net reduction in the number of deaths in China due to the Corona virus.

The Silver Lining

So while the world is in panic buying mode for face masks, surgical gloves and hand sanitizers, take a moment to relax with a beer (corona anyone?), enjoy a few corona virus inspired memes and see the corona of the corona virus outbreak during these dark days.


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