Air quality index variation before and after the onset of COVID-19 pandemic: a comprehensive study on 87 capital, industrial and polluted cities of the world

M. Sarmadi*, S. Rahimi*, M. Rezaei, D. Sanaei, M. Dianatinasab

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Web of Science)


Background Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic provided an opportunity for the environment to reduce ambient pollution despite the economic, social and health disruption to the world. The purpose of this study was to investigate the changes in the air quality indexes (AQI) in industrial, densely populated and capital cities in different countries of the world before and after 2020. In this ecological study, we used AQI obtained from the free available databases such as the World Air Quality Index (WAQI). Bivariate correlation analysis was used to explore the correlations between meteorological and AQI variables. Mean differences (standard deviation: SD) of AQI parameters of different years were tested using paired-sample t-test or Wilcoxon signed-rank test as appropriate. Multivariable linear regression analysis was conducted to recognize meteorological variables affecting the AQI parameters. Results AQI-PM2.5, AQI-PM10 and AQI-NO2 changes were significantly higher before and after 2020, simultaneously with COVID-19 restrictions in different cities of the world. The overall changes of AQI-PM2.5, AQI-PM10 and AQI-NO2 in 2020 were - 7.36%, - 17.52% and - 20.54% compared to 2019. On the other hand, these results became reversed in 2021 (+ 4.25%, + 9.08% and + 7.48%). In general, the temperature and relative humidity were inversely correlated with AQI-PM2.5, AQI-PM10 and AQI-NO2. Also, after adjusting for other meteorological factors, the relative humidity was inversely associated with AQI-PM2.5, AQI-PM10 and AQI-NO2 (beta = - 1.55, beta = - 0.88 and beta = - 0.10, P < 0.01, respectively). Conclusions The results indicated that air quality generally improved for all pollutants except carbon monoxide and ozone in 2020; however, changes in 2021 have been reversed, which may be due to the reduction of some countries' restrictions. Although this quality improvement was temporary, it is an important result for planning to control environmental pollutants.
Original languageEnglish
Article number134
Number of pages17
JournalEnvironmental Sciences Europe
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Air quality index
  • Lockdown
  • Restriction
  • Nitrogen dioxide
  • Particulate matter
  • PM2.5
  • CITY

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