Scientists feel air pollution may hinder India’s COVID fight


New Delhi: The causal link between air pollution and COVID-19 cases is yet to be established conclusively but long-term exposure will certainly make people more vulnerable to lung infections, warn scientists as the skies over large parts of north India, including Delhi turn smoky and the air quality deteriorates rapidly.

Their concerns come amid several global studies pointing to the possible connection between higher air pollution levels and increased COVID-19 cases and deaths.

A study by researchers at Harvard University in the US in September showed that an increase of only one microgram per cubic metre in PM2.5 is associated with an 8 per cent increase in the COVID-19 death rate.

“Given the current limited literature, the surge of PM2.5 level in Delhi may be associated with increased COVID-19 cases… Although the literature is relatively sparse at this stage,” Xiao Wu, corresponding author of the Harvard study, said.

He said the relationship between long-term air pollution and COVID-19 has been documented in many studies, which indicate that adverse health impacts of air pollution can make people prone to the infection or exacerbate the severity of COVID-19 symptoms once infected.

This is interesting, especially considering COVID-19 causes viral pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome, and severe inflammation to the heart and circulatory system, the scientist said. Another study by the University of Cambridge in April found an association between living in an area of England with high levels of air pollution and the severity of COVID-19, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“Based on our findings, I would expect to see an association between higher levels of air pollution in India and COVID-19 in the winter, similar with what we found in England,” said Marco Travaglio, corresponding author of the Cambridge study.