Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Positive effects of covid-19

Reasons to be cheerful: the other global crisis

BMJ 2020; 370 doi: (Published 03 July 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;370:m2627
  1. Helen M Roberts, professor of child health research,
  2. Roz Shafran, professor of translational psychology
  1. UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, London WC1N 1EH, UK
  1. h.roberts{at}

Nelson is right.1 Covid-19 isn’t the only global emergency. We still have a chance, just, to act on the other emergency—climate—to reduce inequalities and save lives. Holgate reminds us that the air we breathe carries danger as well as life.2 After the dangers of air pollution in London were recognised in the 1950s, the clean air acts that followed reduced fossil fuel emissions with dramatic effect.

If turning to the other emergency while preoccupied with covid-19 feels futile, there are words of comfort from Piet Hein, a Danish scientist using a pen as his weapon during the Nazi occupation.

Losing one glove is certainly painful

But nothing

Compared to the pain,

Of losing one,

Throwing away the other,

And finding

The first one again.

Piet Hein3

Even so, change is tricky. Academics and clinicians frequently make recommendations for others, but what happens when we are the ones who need to change? How do individuals and institutions balance one set of values—improved air quality and a reduction in respiratory problems—against others—travel for global citizenship or new hospital buildings?

Researchers, young people, clinicians, and local citizens along with Great Ormond Street Hospital’s sustainability lead are using the Clean Air Hospital Framework—a global first, co-designed by Global Action Plan and Great Ormond Street Hospital45—as the basis for discussion around air quality. With colleagues in the Bartlett School of Planning and Laws at UCL and the university’s head of sustainability, we’re exploring how lay and specialist knowledge can feed into policy and bring about evidence informed change locally and beyond.6

Covid-19 offers an unprecedented opportunity to view the world as it could be when air pollution is reduced. One more report thudding onto the desk of policy makers is not the way to get their attention, and the response to the current crisis means that rather than shouting from the outside “let us in, let us in,” we are pushing on a door that is ajar.


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