AbstractThe absence of motor vehicle traffic and suspended manufacturing during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in China enabled assessment of the efficiency of air pollution mitigation. Up to 90% reduction of certain emissions during the city-lockdown period can be identified from satellite and ground-based observations. Unexpectedly, extreme particulate matter levels simultaneously occurred in northern China. Our synergistic observation analyses and model simulations show that anomalously high humidity promoted aerosol heterogeneous chemistry, along with stagnant airflow and uninterrupted emissions from power plants and petrochemical facilities, contributing to severe haze formation. Also, because of nonlinear production chemistry and titration of ozone in winter, reduced nitrogen oxides resulted in ozone enhancement in urban areas, further increasing the atmospheric oxidizing capacity and facilitating secondary aerosol formation.