Before-and-after photos show the dramatic effect lockdowns had on pollution around the world in 2020

Sophie-Claire Hoeller
Clear waters in Venice
Rows of gondolas sit in clear water in Venice's canals. REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri
  • Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, around one-third of the world was under lockdown.

  • Air traffic was down, fewer cars were on the road, and factories were closed; this meant that air pollution drastically decreased in many parts of the world.

  • Milan, Italy, which has historically struggled with smog, is even thinking about ways to reduce air pollution post-pandemic by introducing a plan to reduce car use.

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As humans hunkered down indoors early on in the pandemic, the natural world positively thrived. Wild animals roamed empty streets, and nature reclaimed urban areas.

In some places, air pollution noticeably reduced during lockdown: pollution levels in China were down an estimated 25% in February.

This makes sense given that a third of the world's population was under lockdown in March, and 96% of global destinations had introduced travel restrictions by April.

According to CNN, the TSA reported a 96% drop in air travel in April, while Allstate CEO Thomas Wilson told CNBC in April that driving was down between 35% to 50% in the US, depending on the state.

While the environment may have convalesced during these early lockdowns, experts didn't expect it to last. The short-term effects were pretty striking, however, as these before-and-after pictures show.

BEFORE: The BBC reported that Milan was named Europe's most polluted city in 2008, but that smog is still a problem today.

Pollution coronavirus milan
A view of Milan, Italy, on January 8, 2020. Flavio Lo Scalzo/Reuters

Source: BBC

AFTER: Once traffic dropped during lockdown, so did air pollution. In response, Milan is thinking about introducing a plan to reduce car use after the pandemic to avoid a rebound, according to The Guardian.

Pollution coronavirus milan
A view of Milan, Italy, on April 17, 2020. Flavio Lo Scalzo/Reuters

Source: The Guardian

BEFORE: Venice, Italy's, high-traffic waterways were generally murky.

Pollution coronavirus Venice Grand Canal
The Grand Canal, Venice, Italy, on January 6, 2018. Manuel Silvestri/Reuters

AFTER: In March, photos emerged of the canals looking so clear that you could see to their bottom. However, the city's mayor told CNN that this was due to "less traffic on the canals, allowing the sediment to stay at the bottom."

Pollution coronavirus Venice Grand Canal
The Grand Canal, Venice, Italy, on April 17, 2020. Manuel Silvestri/Reuters

Source: CNN

BEFORE: According to The New York Times, India was home to 14 of the 20 cities with the most hazardous air in 2019.

Pollution coronavirus River Yamuna on March 21, 2018  New Dehli India
New Delhi, India, as seen from the Yamuna River on March 21, 2018. Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Source: The New York Times

AFTER: Delhi hasn't seen air this clear for decades. "I look at the sky quite often and enjoy its blueness from my balcony," a retired English professor told The New York Times in April.

Pollution coronavirus River Yamuna on March 21, 2018  New Dehli India
New Delhi, India, as seen from the Yamuna River on April 8, 2020, after a 21-day nationwide lockdown. Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Source: The New York Times

BEFORE: In 2019, CNN cited "dangerous levels of pollution" in New Delhi, describing India's capital as "shrouded" in "a toxic, throat-searing cloud of brown smog."

Pollution coronavirus India Gate war memorial New Delhi, India
The India Gate war memorial in New Delhi, India, on October 17, 2019. Anushree Fadnavis/Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Source: CNN

AFTER: According to Reuters, New Delhi experienced "the longest spell of clean air on record" back in April.

Pollution coronavirus India Gate war memorial New Delhi, India
The India Gate war memorial in New Delhi, India, on April 8, 2020, after a 21-day nationwide lockdown. Anushree Fadnavis/Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Source: Reuters

BEFORE: When India imposed its first lockdown in late March, it encompassed 1.3 billion people, making it the world's largest lockdown, according to CNN.

Pollution coronavirus buildings New Delhi, India
New Delhi, India, on November 8, 2018. Anushree Fadnavis/Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Source: CNN

AFTER: According to the Washington Post, air pollution in New Delhi dropped by almost 60% within just a few days of the beginning of the lockdown.

Pollution coronavirus buildings New Delhi, India
New Delhi, India, on April 8, 2020. Anushree Fadnavis/Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Source: The Washington Post

BEFORE: New Delhi's air is so polluted it can be seen from space, according to USA Today.

Pollution coronavirus A combination picture shows birds flying next to electricity pylons on October 30, 2019 and after air pollution level started to drop during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to slow the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the old quarters of Delhi, India, April 13, 2020.
Electricity pylons in New Delhi, India, on October 30, 2019 Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Source: USA Today

AFTER: In April, CNN reported much lower levels of both noxious microscopic particulate (PM 2.5) and of nitrogen dioxide. In New Delhi, the PM 2.5 went down by 71% in a single week of lockdown.

Pollution coronavirus A combination picture shows birds flying next to electricity pylons on October 30, 2019 and after air pollution level started to drop during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to slow the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the old quarters of Delhi, India, April 13, 2020.
Electricity pylons in New Delhi, India, April 13, 2020. Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Source: CNN

BEFORE: Air quality in New Delhi was so bad that a public health emergency was declared in November 2019, CNN reported.

Presidential Palace New Delhi India pollution coronavirus
New Delhi's Presidential Palace on March 24, 2020. JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images

Source: CNN

AFTER: Just one week into lockdown, NASA saw India's air pollution drop to a 20-year low.

Presidential Palace New Delhi India pollution coronavirus
New Delhi's Presidential Palace on April 2, 2020. JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images

Source: NASA

BEFORE: According to the World Economic Forum, air pollution alone kills 1.25 million people in India annually.

New Delhi pollution coronavirus
New Delhi on November 1, 2019. Manish Swarup/AP

Source: World Economic Forum

AFTER: The Washington Post reported that India's "long-running battle with pollution may have rendered it particularly vulnerable to the novel coronavirus," citing Harvard research.

New Delhi pollution coronavirus
New Delhi on April 20, 2020. Manish Swarup/AP

Source: The Washington Post

BEFORE: According to a previous Insider report, some parts of India saw the Himalayas for the first time in decades.

Kangra valley in Dharmsala, India, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020.
Kangra valley in Dharmsala, India, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. Ashwini Bhatia/AP

Source: Insider

AFTER: The Dhauladhar range is clearly visible during lockdown in Dharmsala.

Himalayas visible India coronavirus pollution
The Dhauladhar range visible on April 10, 2020. Manish Swarup/AP

Similarly, the snow-covered Pir Panjal mountain range was visible from a residential area in Jammu, India, in early May.

Jammu, India, Coronavirus pollution
Jammu, India on May 3, 2020. Mukesh Gupta/Reuters

BEFORE: Jakarta's air pollution was so bad that The Guardian reported that a group of local activists decided to sue the Indonesian government to take action in 2019.

Pollution coronavirus Jakarta
The skyline of Jakarta, Indonesia, on July 4, 2019. Willy Kurniawan/Reuters

Source: The Guardian

AFTER: According to the Jakarta Post, the Jakarta Environment Agency reported improved air quality after social restrictions were put in place in late March.

Pollution coronavirus Jakarta
The skyline of Jakarta, Indonesia, on April 16, 2020. Willy Kurniawan/Reuters

Source: The Jakarta Post

BEFORE: Some days, Jakarta ranks as the world's smoggiest city, according to ABC.

Pollution coronavirus A combination picture shows a man walking on top of the wreckage of a wooden boat, as smog covers the sky, July 26, 2018, (top) and a view of the same location pictured during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in North Jakarta, Indonesia
The wreckage of a wooden boat in North Jakarta, Indonesia, on July 26, 2018. Willy Kurniawan/Reuters

Source: ABC

AFTER: Previously, blue skies in Jakarta were a sign of many of the city's residents leaving for the Eid al-Fitr holidays in June, ABC reports.

Pollution coronavirus A combination picture shows a man walking on top of the wreckage of a wooden boat, as smog covers the sky, July 26, 2018, (top) and a view of the same location pictured during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in North Jakarta, Indonesia
The wreckage of a wooden boat in North Jakarta, Indonesia, on April 16, 2020. Willy Kurniawan/Reuters

Source: ABC

BEFORE: A local publication reported that Islamabad's already poor air quality is worsening due to an increase in the number of cars, as well as steel mills.

Pollution coronavirus islamabad
The view from the Daman-e-Koh viewing point in Islamabad, Pakistan, on August 3, 2017. Faisal Mahmood/Saiyna Bashir/Reuters

Source: Dawn

AFTER: Thanks to a lockdown-induced decrease in traffic, visibility has improved.

Pollution coronavirus islamabad
The view from the Daman-e-Koh viewing point in Islamabad, Pakistan, on April 20, 2020. Faisal Mahmood/Saiyna Bashir/Reuters

BEFORE: Los Angeles is notorious for two things: smog and traffic.

los angeles smog
The usual smog in Los Angeles, California. David McNew/Getty Images

AFTER: LA saw the most consecutive good air days in March than it has since at least 1995, according to CNN. However, whether this is lockdown related or due to factors such as recent storms is unclear, per Getty.

Los Angeles coronavirus less pollution
The San Gabriel Mountains are visible in Los Angeles, California, on April 14, 2020. David McNew/Getty

Sources: Business Insider, Getty

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