Urban areas are likely putting citizens at greater risk from the Covid-19 virus, respiratory doctors have warned. Poor air quality has been shown to cause hypertension, diabetes and respiratory diseases - conditions that doctors have started to link to deaths from the pandemic.
Dirty air is known to cause lung and heart damage and is responsible for at least 8m early deaths a year. This underlying health damage means respiratory infections, such as coronavirus, may well have a more serious impact on city dwellers and those exposed to toxic fumes, than on others.
Toxic air risen to extreme levels in India
While urban air pollution has declined in developed countries, the understanding of the widespread damage it causes to health has increased, and toxic air has risen to extreme levels in developing countries, such as India.
“Patients with chronic lung and heart conditions caused or worsened by long-term exposure to air pollution are less able to fight off lung infections and more likely to die. This is likely also the case for Covid-19,” said Sara De Matteis, at Cagliari University, Italy, and a member of the environmental health committee of the European Respiratory Society. “By lowering air pollution levels we can help the most vulnerable in their fight against this and any possible future pandemics.”
Will the clear blue skies last?
In three coronavirus hotspots, satellite imagery revealed a dramatic decline in air pollution in recent weeks as China, Italy, and Iran were brought to a standstill. One Stanford scientist estimated that China’s coronavirus lockdown could have saved 77,000 lives by curbing emissions from factories and vehicles — nearly 10 times the number of deaths worldwide from the virus so far.
But the blue skies are unlikely to last. Just as the temporary dip in global carbon dioxide emissions could be reversed when companies eventually increase production to make up for lost time, air pollution could rebound with a vengeance when factories and traffic spring back to life.
Sascha Marschang, the acting secretary general of the European Public Health Alliance, said: “Once this crisis is over, policymakers should speed up measures to get dirty vehicles off our roads. Science tells us that epidemics like Covid-19 will occur with increasing frequency. So cleaning up the streets is a basic investment for a healthier future.”
"The world is going through a surreal experience. Daily the number of covid19 patients is increasing, and the lockdown in India seems to have happened early enough before community transmission started. While daily wage workers are going through immeasurable hardships, the earth is using this opportunity to clean its air, water, and seas. I hope we come through this onslaught with a deeper insight and more awareness of each of our carbon footprint. Let's preserve our resources, use them judiciously so that man, beast, and forest can live in harmony on earth." said Dr. Sarika Verma, ENT surgeon Gurgaon.