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Toxic Air in Delhi Could Heighten COVID-19 Infections, Mortality: Pulmonologist

India's capital has been grappling with high air pollution year-after-year, despite a slew of directions by the apex court early this year to curb it. In July, while criticising Delhi and the federal government, the Supreme Court of India even remarked that "Delhi is choking every year and we are unable to do anything".

Healthcare experts in the Indian capital have warned the increasing air pollution levels may further trigger the surge of COVID-19 incidence and turn fatal for people suffering from respiratory ailments.

As the air quality in the capital started declining with the onset of the winter season, Delhi Chief Arvind Kejriwal announced a series of measures to contain the situation and launched a "War Against Pollution" campaign.

According to the federal Earth Sciences Ministry's SAFAR Air Quality, the air quality index (AQI) in terms of PM2.5 on Friday was 242, indicating it to be "poor".

Dr Arvind Kumar, the chairman of the Centre for Chest Surgery at Sir Gangaram Hospital and founder of the Lung Care Foundation, told Sputnik, that if the air pollution levels rise there would be an increased incidence of COVID as well as increased mortality.

"The pollution afflicted communities have weak lungs and weak immunity. When they are exposed to the same dose of coronavirus, they have a higher chance of acquiring, contracting the infection as compared to their healthy counterparts and have more chance of death if they get the disease", he explained.  

Dr Kumar said there was no shortcut to combating air pollution  other than controlling the sources of pollution.  

"If the levels (of air pollution) rise then there is nothing you can do to save yourselves as the only other option is to stop breathing. Either don't get the air dirty or don't breathe the air", Dr Kumar warned.

In an oblique reference to the recent spat between Kejriwal and federal Environment Minister Prakash Javedkar on the cause of air pollution in the nation's capital, the pulmonologist, campaigning for cleaner air in Delhi, said there is no point in indulging in a blame-game.  

"Everybody is breathing; even Mr Kejriwal is breathing, even Mr Modi (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) is breathing, even Mr Nadda (BJP President Jagat Prakash Nadda) is breathing, everybody is breathing and everybody's children is breathing. Anybody who thinks he can keep his children in an air purifier inside, no gentlemen, we got to go out, none of us can lock ourselves in air-conditioned rooms 24x7. So, cleaning the ambient air is the only option", he pointed.

Dr Kumar discounted the argument that smog towers could mitigate the air quality levels in Delhi.

He said air volume in the country was in the trillions and trillions of cubic metres and no there was no tower made anywhere in the world that could clean such a huge volume of air. 

He argued, "Let us work on preventing the air from getting polluted rather than letting it be polluted and then trying to clean it".

Meanwhile, a study published in The Lancet on Friday shows, air pollution was one of the top risk factors for death in India in 2019. The estimates, which were part of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) shows, an estimated 1.67 million deaths were caused by air pollution.

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