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Satellite images showing the mean tropospheric nitrogen dioxide density changes over China. Photo: NASA

Pollution levels have plummeted over China and it's "partly related to the economic slowdown following the outbreak of coronavirus," NASA said in a statement accompanying the release of satellite images demonstrating the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) changes.

Driving the news: The outbreak caused China's factory activity to fall to a record low of 35.7 in February from 50.0 in January, officials said Saturday, per the Financial Times. NO2, a key contributor to smog and a major health hazard, is the gas that's emitted by motor vehicles, power plants and other industrial facilities.

NO2 levels in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak. Photo: NASA
This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event."
— Fei Liu, air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Zoom in: NASA scientists first noticed the reduction in NO2 pollution in January near Wuhan, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. They then noticed changes in pollution levels across the country as the virus spread.

The big picture: Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, recalled seeing a fall in NO2 levels over several countries during the economic recession that began in 2008, but that was more gradual.

  • Lunar New Year celebrations may have contributed to the big drop, but Liu noted the levels had not rebounded — as happened when there was a dip in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics before they rose again after the Games finished.
  • "This year, the reduction rate is more significant than in past years and it has lasted longer," Liu said. "I am not surprised because many cities nationwide have taken measures to minimize spread of the virus."

Go deeper: Coronavirus hits China's tech manufacturing

Go deeper

8 people killed in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis

A screenshot of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson Genae Cook during a news conference Friday morning. Photo: Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department/Facebook

At least eight people are dead and multiple others injured in a shooting Thursday night at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, authorities said.

Details: "The alleged shooter has taken his own life here at the scene," Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson Genae Cook said during a news conference early Friday. The gunman is believed to have been acting alone.

  • FedEx said in a statement it's aware of the shooting and was working to gather more information and cooperating with authorities near the Indianapolis airport.

Editor's note: This a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

Dems race to address, preempt stimulus fraud claims

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Biden officials are working to root out the systematic fraud in unemployment and Paycheck Protection Program claims that plagued the Trump administration’s efforts to boost the economy with coronavirus relief money, Gene Sperling told House committee chairmen privately this week.

Why it matters: President Biden just signed another $1.9 trillion of aid into law, with Sperling tapped to oversee its implementation. And the administration is asking Congress to approve another $2.2 trillion for the first phase of an infrastructure package.

7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden close to picking Nick Burns as China ambassador

Nicholas Burns. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat, is in the final stages of vetting to serve as President Biden’s ambassador to China, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Across the administration, there's a consensus the U.S. relationship with China will be the most critical — and consequential — of Biden's presidency. From trade to Taiwan, the stakes are high. Burns could be among the first batch of diplomatic nominees announced in the coming weeks.