Extreme air pollution in Delhi during winter likely to aggravate COVID-19 situation: Doctors

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New Delhi: Doctors and environment experts believe that extreme levels of air pollution in the national capital during winter is likely to aggravate the COVID-19 situation in the city and pose a serious challenge to the government. Every winter, Delhi’s air quality dips to a dangerous low due to many reasons, including the city’s geographic location, unfavourable weather, stubble burning and local sources of pollution.

A Supreme Court-mandated pollution control body had in November last year declared a public health emergency and ordered the closure of schools, construction activities and diesel generators in Delhi-NCR after a toxic haze shrouded the region. Dr Akshay Budhraja, Consultant in Department of Pulmonology, Aakash Healthcare Super Specialty Hospital, said air pollution poses a serious threat to people suffering from chronic bronchitis and inflammation of lungs and such patients are more prone to COVID-19.

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The severity is more if they contract the viral disease, he said. “Air pollution makes asthma worse. It will be a challenging time for us too, as it takes 10-12 hours to conduct a radiological examination and an RT-PCR test to determine whether it’s a case of asthma flare-up or coronavirus,” he said.

Dr Laxmikant Kaotekwar, Consultant, Pulmonology, Columbia Asia Hospital, Pune, said, “If there is a previous history of dust allergies, it points towards asthma flare-up.” “Asthma patients are more prone to COVID-19. Such people should get evaluated beforehand so they can keep their asthma under control.”

Santosh Harish, a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, said pollution levels will be relatively lower this year due to subdued economic activity. “However, air pollution exposure is likely to increase vulnerability to COVID-19 and the severity of the infection.” “It is a matter of serious concern. We are going to witness very high levels of pollution soon and this is going to coincide with the time the COVID-19 cases will peak,” he said.

High air pollution-level will aggravate the situation as it seriously compromises the respiratory system and the immune system. There will be serious complications among COVID-19 patients, said Sunil Dahia, an analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. “Stubble burning is not the only cause behind dangerous levels of air pollution in Delhi. Among other measures, the government should order the closure of coal-fired power plants during winter to arrest the dip in air quality,” he said. 

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