Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday, 5 November, spoke about the double threat from COVID-19 and air pollution faced by the residents of the national capital.
“The government and the people of Delhi are putting in all the effort to resolve this issue. COVID-19 situation is getting worse because of pollution. Every year, we see this deteriorating air because of stubble burning in the neighboring states. Unfortunately, the governments have not provided an alternative to these farmers.”Arvind Kejriwal
In fact, the share of stubble burning in Delhi's air pollution rose to 42 per cent on Thursday, the maximum so far this season, as city's residents woke up to air quality in severe category, according to a central government's air quality monitoring agency, IANS reported.
Delhi recorded over 6,700 fresh COVID-19 cases for the first time on Tuesday, and saw its highest ever on Wednesday at 6,842. The sudden increase in cases comes in the backdrop of the festive season and rising pollution level.
Over the past few days, the Air Quality Index (AQI) has been above 300 - swinging between the ‘very poor’ to ‘hazardous’ categories. On Thursday morning, the air quality worsened to ‘severe’ at 452.
Even though we cannot quantify or draw a direct correlation, the very real implications of pollution on COVID-19 cases cannot be undermined, as experts and policymakers have warned about in the past.
Air Pollution and COVID-19: What Research Says
FIT had earlier reported on the associations between pollution and coronavirus in an explainer.
Preliminary research and isolated studies from different parts of the world have signalled a proportionate relationship between polluted air and COVID severity. Most notable is an ecological study from Harvard University, which found that even a small increase in PM2.5 levels was associated with an 8% increase in COVID-19-related deaths.
While the research is yet to be peer-reviewed, the findings are significant in highlighting the need to work towards measures to control air pollution and prevent the accompanying health hazards.
Other studies have also looked at the correlation between pollution and more COVID-related deaths. For instance, an analysis of COVID fatalities in Italy, Spain, France and Germany concluded that 78% of the deaths were in regions with the highest NO2 concentrations, combined with lower wind flow that prevented dispersion of pollutants.
It is also being investigated if air pollution can facilitate the spread of the novel coronavirus and lead to a spike in cases. While there is no direct proof of such a relationship, early evidence from Northern Italy suggests that the virus could be found on particulate matter, indicating that it may attach itself to airborne pollutant particles.
Nevertheless, more research is needed into this area to make conclusive statements, experts have said.
What Explains These Associations? Doctors Explain
To put it simply, air pollution damages various parts of the body by infiltrating the blood vessels, causing inflammation and suppressing immunity. Large-scale evidence exists to support its contribution to heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, asthma, cancer and other comorbidities - all of which are known to increase complications in COVID-19 patients.
Speaking to FIT, Dr Nikhil Modi, senior consultant, respiratory, critical care and sleep disorder at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, explains that pollution becomes a grave concern because of the way it compromises the respiratory system and causes damage to the lungs, the prime target of respiratory infections such as COVID-19.
“Pollution, as we know, is akin to smoking. When we inhale the polluted air, it causes congestion in our chest and hampers the mechanism by which our airways or breathing tubes clear dust particles, viruses and bacteria from the lungs. When this is damaged, the chances of the virus staying there, going into the chest and causing symptoms will be high.”Dr Nikhil Modi
In essence, air pollution is directly linked to several conditions and comorbidities that are known to increase COVID-19 complications and death risk. The adverse impact it can have on the immune system and the ways it can lead to inflammation, are all well-documented.
Add to this the coming winter season, and the risks increase manifold, as we had earlier explained.
(With inputs from IANS)