Poor air quality may be a contributing factor to the severity of the Covid-19 outbreak, according to emerging evidence.  Clearly, it is early days in this research, and as a lawyer with a science degree I am always cautious about headlines running ahead of the evidence.  However, there is undoubtedly some degree of correlation between the areas with the most severe cases and nitrogen dioxide levels in those areas.  So what does that mean from a legal perspective?   Here are some observations:

  • Many urban areas in the UK have been in breach of EU air quality standards for years;
  • This has lead to successful legal challenges to the UK's plans for addressing air quality (see for example our commentary here);
  •  It is a really difficult issue to resolve because of the myriad causes, and solutions involve hard political judgements;
  • It is not just a public health issue, it is also impacting business and other parts of the economy, sometimes significantly (see our articles here and here); and
  • The exit of the UK from the EU, and the new Environment Bill before Parliament, will have significant implications for air quality law: this is something that is undergoing close scrutiny and upon which we will commenting further as the Bill progresses. 

The over-arching observation, though, is the growing realisation (backed with more and more evidence) that the environment and human health are not two distinct concepts but closely intertwined: something that environmental law and policy in an independent UK must address.