COVID-19 and Air Pollution


Last week due to an emergency health scare, I had to rush to the ENT, a few kilometers away from my house. After making sure I followed all the precautionary measures to safeguard my family and myself from the deadly virus, I left my house for the first time in almost 30 days. For almost a month I had forgotten the warmth of the sun, the feel of the cold breeze and the sight of the blue skies. As scared I was to step out of the house, there was this excitement of finally seeing what the outside world looked like.

When I was on the road, on my way to the hospital, I realized that there was something different in the atmosphere. The trees filled the air with a lovely fragrance, the chirping of the birds echoed all around and the clear blue skies with beautiful white cotton like clouds looked dreamy.  I couldn’t comprehend as to why everything felt so crisp and energetic; there was a divine aura that was unfathomable. At first I thought that I felt these emotions since I had stepped out of the house for the first time in a very long time. But then the reality hit me hard and I realized that our surroundings wore a different look because “we”, were shut in our houses.

According to a study, 4.2 million people lose their lives every year owing to outdoor pollution. There are millions that develop respiratory diseases and skin infections due to impure air. Air Pollution is also known to weaken the immune system causing people to fall ill.  If we try to decode the murky relationship between air pollution and COVID 19, according to researchers, polluted air is catalyzing the spread of the deadly virus. Scientists state that, due to the lockdown there has been a significant drop in air pollution levels, which can thereby slow down the viral transmission. A recent study led by Xiao Wu and Rachel Nethery at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found out that minute increases in fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, have had an enormous effect in the US. An increase of just 1 microgram per cubic meter corresponded to a 15% increase in Covid-19 deaths. Aaron Bernstein the director of the Center for Climate, Health, and Global Environment at Harvard University has clearly stated that people living in areas with poor air quality have a higher chance of dying from Coronavirus.

Coming to the situation in our country, aiming for a cleaner air is not a choice, but it is a step that has to be taken immediately if we want to put an end to this pandemic. The lockdown may help in lowering the number of infected people, but it doesn’t take attention away from the fact that environmental monitoring is also an aspect that the government has to look into. India is home to 21 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world. New Delhi has the topped the charts for the most polluted capital city in the world for two consecutive years. The State of Global Air 2019 Report finds air pollution responsible for over 1.2 million deaths in China and India each, based on 2017 data. Continued air pollution directly translates to higher mortality under COVID-19. There are millions who toil in the open and live without basic facilities. Owning air purifiers and other mitigating facilities are a dream for many of them. There are evidences that state the spread of infections from wild or domesticated animals to humans. 

The COVID pandemic has been declared a national disaster in India under the National Disaster Management Act of 2005. According to this act, the disaster authorities at the central, state and district levels coordinate among themselves to take steps towards prevention and alleviation of the pandemic. Air pollution creates medical conditions that gravely increase the risk of casualties from COVID-19.

It saddens me to think that it took a great pandemic and a million deaths to make us realize that the environment is crying for help and it is high time we humans step in to make the world a better place for the sake of the future generations.

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