Coronavirus and the Environment

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Written by: Shuyi Kong


Coronavirus is a large family of viruses that can cause common colds and even serious diseases. (WHO, 2020) The new Covid-19 is a new strain that has never been found in humans before. Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath, and dyspnea. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death. (Coronavirus pandemic, 2020).


 The new Covid-19 has a strong ability to spread and it can be transmitted from person to person. A person who has Covid-19 may spread droplets containing the virus a short distance via coughs, sneezes or talks, and the virus can survive up to a week outside body, such as metal, glass, paper, and plastic. People may get infected if they touch those surfaces and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes. (Medical administration, 2020)

Some governments, including the UK and the Netherlands, have discussed pursuing herd immunity to combat coronavirus.(Reuters: Athit Perawongmetha) Photo credit


According to the COVID-19 Interactive Map to date (08/04/2020), there has been over 1.4 million people infected globally, and the total deaths is over 80,000, fatality rate 5.7%. The top 5 most affected countries are US, Spain, Italy, France and German. The infection trend showed an exponential rate. In NZ, there has been over 1,000 cases and one death. (CRC, 2020)


It is estimated that $675 million USD will be used to develop preparedness plans and ensure the global responses to the Covid-19. It is proposed to:

• Reduce human to human transmission;

• Optimize care for affected patients; and

• Identify animal to human transmission. (King Abia, 2020)

Countries globally have taken different level of measures to reduce the possibility of transmission. China implemented a strict lockdown shortly after the identification of the virus. NZ is currently at Alert Level 4 which mean everyone should stay at home apart from essential work and activities. Worldwide, pubs and theatres have been closed; schools and works have been sent home for social-distancing; extensive travel restrictions are in place and flights are being cancelled. (Henriques, 2020)


The Covid19 has been causing significant impacts on environment both in positive and negative ways. In terms of the improvements on pollutions, it was amazing to observe the improvements were so significant and happened so fast. It is understood that the current impacts will be temporary, and it is definitely not the way to improve our environment. However, these positive impacts have provided valuable confidence and evidence for environmental scientists and city planners. I believe the environmental problems may be better improved in the short coming future using these learnings.

A deserted street is pictured in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province, March 2, 2020. Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images


With the restricted travel control globally and less vehicles and industries operating, there has been several significant positive impacts on our environment.

  • Improved air quality: The closing down of transport network and businesses have led to a significant drop in carbon emissions. The emissions level fell 25% in China at the start of the year, and the coal use fell by 40% due to factories’ closure. The level of pollution in New York have almost been halved. The satellite images of NO2 emissions faded away over northern Italy, and exactly the same trends can be seen in Spain and UK. (Henriques, 2020)
  • Clearer water: The banning of all non-essential travels has significantly reduced the number of tourists globally. There is hardly anyone will be able to travel to the famous beach and lake for a holiday during this pandemic period. The lake water and sea water are noticeably clearer comparing to pre Covid19. For example, the Venice’s canals used to be packed with tourists and water traffic, the usually muddy canals are now running with bright, clearer water with swarms of fishes and the canal bottom is clearly visible. (ABC, 2020)
  • Better environment for animals: The social-distancing has reduced people on the streets and parks. After a period that less human appearing in the city, the animals and birds are starting to appear more in cities as they felt less danger and disruptions. It appeared to be noticeably more birds flying to the cities and more seagulls near the beach. Wild animals sometimes even appears in cities or near households in rural areas.
NO2 Level from satellite images by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. (CRECA, 2020)


On the other side of the coin, the virus treatments and control also raised a number of concerns regarding to negative impacts on our environment.

  • Medical waste: Due to the high spreading risks of Covid-19, medical workers as well as the general public started to use significant amount of protection gears such as medical masks, rubber gloves etc. Most of the protective equipment are disposal items and must be safely discarded after use. Therefore, it resulted surprising amount of medical waste. For example, Wuhan city in China, the medical waste reached 240 metric tons per day during the pandemic, which it is about the same weight of an adult blue whale according to The Verge (Calma, 2020).
  • Less human resource: With restricted policies on essential workers, the household waste is significantly increasing but at the same time, the waste management process is getting less efficient and short of resources, due to less workers and additional safety procedures. This also impacted negatively on other environmental waste process and recycle systems.
  • More plastic bags: In most countries, grocery stores and online shopping have become the most popular ‘places’ during the Covid-19 lockdowns. It has been observed that the demand for canned food, delivery bags and food wrappings have been significantly increased, and inevitable this has led to increased plastic pollution. It is important to remind people to use reusable / recyclable bags as much as possible especially during this pandemic.


ABC NEWS. (2020). Venice canals run clear as coronavirus lockdown leaves city free of tourists. ABC NEWS.

Calma, J. (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic is generating tons of medical waste.


Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air [@CREACleanAir]. (2020, March 13). Levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution are inching back up over China. Definitely not a surge above pre-crisis levels, just factories and transport starting to run again. Steep drop in northern Italy. [Image attached] [Tweet]. Twitter.

Coronavirus pandemic. (2020). Coronavirus: Online symptom checker launched in Wales. BBC.

Coronavirus Resource Center. (2020). the COVID-19 Interactive Map. Johns Hopkins University and Medicine.

Henriques, M. (2020). Pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have fallen across continents as countries try to contain the spread of the new coronavirus. Is this just a fleeting change, or could it lead to longer-lasting falls in emissions? BBC.

King Abia, AL. (2020). Plans to fight coronavirus must pay attention to the environment. The Conversation.

Medical administration. (2020). Notice on Issuing a New Coronavirus Infected Pneumonia Diagnosis and Treatment Plan (5th). (Report NO.103).