Rising pollution shows China factories bouncing back from coronavirus outbreak

March 3, 2020, 1:30 PM UTC

Satellite data show economic activity in China could be picking up following a steep drop off caused by the coronavirus

Nitrogen dioxide levels rose across China’s industrial heartland, according to the most recent Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service data compiled by Windy.Com. The reddish-brown gas mainly enters the air from burning fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas. Levels plummeted in February after Chinese authorities locked down communities to contain the virus. 

The data confirms anecdotal reports that Chinese workers are slowly heading back to their jobs. The economy was probably running at 60% to 70% capacity last week, according to a Bloomberg Economics report, up from about 50% earlier in February.  Government controls and the fear of going outside have curtailed spending and kept factory staff at home. That reduced output and clogged up logistic supply chains.

While pollution in China typically drops early in the year as factories pause for Lunar New Year celebrations, this year’s decline caught scientists off guard because of its severity. Upheaval from the coronavirus is prompting global policy makers to weigh extraordinary economic stimulus. 

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