Lockdown: The Country Scale Experiment

One thing about how humanity has dealt and is continuing to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak is that it’s really a huge experiment with country scale populations. Some really interesting effects are being seen, I’d say that the research hasn’t even really started yet. There’s all sorts of questions that could be examined, from mental health effects to lack of traffic and cleaner air.

Two that caught my eye so far are related to pollution in the air we breathe. I hope that things like these will really bring home to people just how much impact that invisible air pollution has on our health.

Two million people in the UK with respiratory conditions such as asthma have experienced reduced symptoms during the coronavirus lockdown, according to the British Lung Foundation.

Guardian: “Cleaner air during UK lockdown relieves asthma for millions

Back in the day, I remember our science teacher telling us that asthma was on the increase, and at the time we considered smoking as a possible cause, but now I’d point the finger at air pollution. While Dublin had cleaned up the very visible smog, the fine particle pollution was on the increase, as it is today.

Another fascinating one is the fall in pre-term births:

An “unprecedented” fall in pre-term births in one of the country’s largest maternity hospitals is being credited to the effect of positive lifestyle influences during the lockdown.

The number of underweight babies fell dramatically in University Maternity Hospital Limerick in the first four months of the year, a trend researchers believe is due to reduced stress and healthier lifestyles brought on by the Covid-19 restrictions.

There was a 73 per cent reduction in the number of very low birth-weight babies born in the hospital, compared to the average for the same first four months of the year in the preceding two decades, a study has found.

If the same finding is replicated nationally for the first four months of the year, there could be up to 200 fewer very-low-weight births this year, and several hundred more if the effect were to last to the end of the year.

Likening the unique conditions of the lockdown to “nature’s experiment”, lead author Prof Roy Philip said the improvements were due to a mix of self-imposed behavioural changes by mothers and externally imposed socio-environmental changes.

These include: reduced work; stress; commuting and financial strain; increased family support; reduced environmental pollution; better infection avoidance; improved sleep and nutritional support; adequate exercise; and reduced exposure to tobacco and illegal drugs.

Irish Times, “Positive lockdown influence credited with fall in pre-term births”

The real research here will be picking apart the confounding factors, some of the changes noted above for example – I’d guess that lots of mothers experienced more stress, perhaps worse family support (relatives couldn’t visit) for example. I hope more research gets done on this.