Major global cities have seen a surge in air pollution post-lockdown

Midtown Manhattan seen from Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City on 16 July 2020.

As the world slowly revolves back to normality, some cities are still benefitting from lockdown-related improvements to air quality, while others are slipping back into a haze.

New research collated by workspace provider Instant Offices appeared to reveal that air pollution has increased in six out of the top 15 major cities since June.


Beijing, Los Angeles, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town and New York saw a double-digit increase in PM2.5 levels since lockdown ended, according to these figures.

New York City saw a considerable dip in PM2.5 levels during peak lockdown when pollution levels plunged by 59%. As things in the city slowly start to return to normal, however, there has been a 33% increase in air pollution as PM2.5 levels spring to almost pre-lockdown levels.

During peak lockdown, air pollution reduced in Hong Kong by 16%, in Sydney by 13%, and in Singapore by 14%, with the trend continuing into post-lockdown as Hong Kong saw a further 127% reduction in air pollution, followed by 35% in Sydney and 23% in Singapore. Brisbane saw an increase in pollution during lockdown but has since seen an improvement of almost 10%.

During peak lockdown in April and May, air pollution increased in Melbourne, Cape Town and Los Angeles, by 24%, 13% and 3% respectively. The trend continued into June and July as lockdowns began to relax, with Melbourne air pollution increasing by 17% followed by Los Angeles at 16%, and Cape Town, with a huge 23% increase.

In Europe, Madrid has not seen air quality improvements. As lockdown eased in the city in June and July and commuters hit the roads again, air pollution rose by 21%.

John Williams, Head of Marketing at The Instant Group commented,

“Earlier this year, we saw an unprecedented pause in global activity as most countries went into lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19. Just two weeks in, PM2.5 levels plunged across some of the world’s busiest cities, leading to improved air quality, increased visibility and even some historical moments, like the Himalaya’s becoming visible for the first time in 30 years in India.

“Now, as life slowly returns to normal around the world, our air quality comparison across 15 major cities reveals that while some are still benefitting from cleaner air, others have seen pollution skyrocket.”

The study used historical data from the World Air Quality Index to compare average PM2.5 levels in 15 major cities between February & March, April & May, June & July. Please note that lockdown start dates and relaxation dates differ around the world. As a result, the above months are intended as a guide.

All data has been sourced from The World Air Quality Index. The organisation works with Environmental Protection Agencies worldwide, sourcing data from over 12, 000 air quality monitoring stations in 1000 major cities across more than 100 countries, providing the most comprehensive, consistent and accurate data on real-time global air quality.

To view the full list of top global cities with the biggest rise and dips in air pollution post-lockdown you can find this here.