The brighter side of pandemic | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 21, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:56 AM, May 21, 2020

The brighter side of pandemic

Road accidents, crimes, pollution in check as Asia sees unexpected gains in lockdowns

Emergency workers usually busy attending accidents on Thailand's roads mill around ambulances parked at a service station -- fewer crashes and crimes a welcome outcome for several Asian countries during coronavirus lockdowns.

As Asia starts to assess the damage caused by the pandemic, some countries are realising there have been unforeseen benefits.

Vietnam's nationwide isolation has seen a drop in crime, Hong Kong has hailed an early end to its annual flu season -- and now, Thailand is seeing a much-needed win in road safety.

"Accidents have gone down quite a lot," said Banjerd Premjit, chief of the Por Tek Tung emergency medical team operating just outside Bangkok.

He credited Thailand's virus-fuelled measures, including a ban on alcohol sales and a nighttime curfew.

Thailand has one of the highest rates of road fatalities per capita in the world, coming second only to war-torn Libya in 2015. But this year Thailand saw a 60 percent decrease nationwide, with the death toll dropping to 167 from 386 people the year before.

Even Thailand's coffin makers have seen a dip in demand, with one factory reporting orders are down by a third.

Regional neighbours with traffic-clogged megacities are reporting similar trends. Deaths from road accidents in Japan fell by nearly 20 percent in April, while Malaysia saw daily fatalities decrease from 17 to five, according to official news agency Bernama.

This year's figures are even promising in India, which normally records 150,000 fatalities each year on its chaotic roads.

Police said the death toll in the state of Kerala sank by 90 percent during the lockdown, compared with the same period last year.

"Rapes also fell from 123 to 37 cases during the lockdown," Kerala police spokesman Pramod Kumar told AFP.

When the coronavirus hit Hong Kong in late January, residents scarred by memories of the 2003 SARS outbreak flocked to buy masks and immediately embraced social distancing. With millions practising better hygiene, doctors noticed the annual winter flu season came to an abrupt end in February -- nine weeks early with less than a third of last year's deaths.

On the mainland empty roads and shuttered factories meant killer toxic pollutants dissipated.

Scientists estimate China's improved air quality averted more than 12,000 cardiovascular-related deaths, although warned in the Lancet journal their results should be "interpreted with caution".

Global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels are set to drop by up to seven percent in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, researchers reported Tuesday.

In early April, coronavirus lockdowns led to a 17 percent reduction worldwide in carbon pollution compared to the same period last year, according to the first peer-reviewed assessment of the pandemic's impact on CO2 emissions, published in Nature Climate Change.

Though the scientist are saying the reduction isn't enough, the environmental gains seen during a global lockdown have scientists and celebrities calling for a "radical transformation" to save the planet instead of a return to normal.

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