Corona virus + Pollution= A deadly combination in Winter.
In the month of March 2020, there was panic all over the world due to a new infectious disease called Corona virus. On March 11, 2020 The W.H.O had declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic.
It was first reported to the W.H.O in December 2019, identified amid an outbreak of respiratory illness in Wuhan City, China. Soon the television channels started beaming scary images of persons across Asia, Europe and America being infected and meeting with untimely death.
As there was no cure for the disease, there was panic everywhere. With thousands of persons getting infected due to the spread of the disease and ultimately meeting death, there were scary pictures showing scarcity of burial spaces; which meant that the people could not rest in peace even when they were no longer alive.
The governments across the world swung into action and declared a strict lock down. Due to this the economic activities came to a standstill. Meanwhile, a fierce competition began among the vaccine manufacturers to come out with a vaccine at the earliest.
Due to the lock down, for the first time in many decades people could feel and observe a clean atmosphere. Cars had gone off the road. In front of their houses at many places, people could see birds which had disappeared long ago and hear their chirping. This was a sight to behold.
At some places the sky had become so clean that mountain ranges which were 200 kilometres away could be clearly seen. Constellations not seen for years could be observed from top of the apartment buildings.
Even as the race for a vaccine for this deadly virus was intensifying, the economy of the world was clearly plunging due to the lock down. All the activities came to a standstill. The stock markets crashed massively within a month.
The governments soon realized that people would starve if everything was kept closed for a long time. Many of the companies were worried about the safety of their employees and allowed them to work from home. This has now become a big trend.
In order to revive the economy all the activities began to resume one by one. Soon the economic activities were again reviving, leading to a surge in pollution.
India has an estimated population of 1.38 billion people with 7.5 million corona virus cases reported till now. As November approaches and weather turns colder experts expect that the winter could see a spike in Covid-19 cases. There is evidence from decades of research that seasonal Flu gets more active in winter months. Viral illnesses that are respiratory in nature can cause greater number of deaths in winter.
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If we see the past records and study the Spanish Flu of 1918 we will observe that the death toll was five times higher in winter compared to summer.
India is home to 14 of the 20 cities with most hazardous air globally. This has been due to an increase in industrial activity during the last few decades. On average these cities exceed W.H.O guidelines for the amount of particulate pollution (PM 2.5) in the atmosphere by 500%. The pollution is quite acute and these conditions lead to brain damage, respiratory problems and often early death.
Now let us take the case of New Delhi, the capital of India. It faces the worst air pollution of any capital city in the world. There is thick Smog enveloping the city at present. These problems are due to the traffic and intensified by diesel generators and burning of fossil fuels by less well-off families.
The only activity unaffected in India during the lock down was farming and there has been a resulting bumper crop this year around. This means that there would be more of stalk/stubble left as a residue on the field and would be burnt during winter. This would result in huge clouds of black smoke that would drift miles away from the farms of nearby states and engulf the city of Delhi. Fine particulates and specks of dust cause stroke, heart disease and lung cancer.
During winter the air temperature and the wind speed drop, thereby condensing pollutants over the city. Due to the slow wind speed, the pollutants would not clear away quickly, which in turn would harm the residents of the city. One of the most common symptoms of corona virus cases is breathing difficulty and if the air becomes more toxic, more number of people who get infected might end up in hospital.
At present there are 2000–4000 per day cases of Corona in the city of New Delhi, but a new report has warned that it should prepare for 15,000 new cases per day during the winter season.
There has been an hesitation among people to use the public transportation system due to the fear of corona virus infection. People prefer their own transportation. This increases the number of vehicles on the road thus adding to the pollution.
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This time around, there would be a double whammy of corona virus and pollution in winter. The study indicates that longer the exposure to air pollution, there is an increased risk of infections especially for those persons with lung diseases. An infection that leads to mild symptoms in healthy person, results in severe impact on those persons with chronic lung diseases. There are risks of secondary infections and other complications on persons with lung infection post Corona.
But people can take precautions, even in some of the worst affected areas. They should keep themselves informed and follow the advice of local health authorities. Schools and colleges can be closed during winters and online education can be continued.
Individuals can go for a self-imposed lock down where older people and children would come out less on the streets. Older people with respiratory problem and ailments of liver, kidney, heart diseases and diabetes should move out less. The markets with a large crowd are to be avoided too, or for that matter any overcrowded place is to be avoided.
Comply with the use of masks, sanitize your hands and maintain social distancing.
We should maintain a good and healthy diet to boost immunity and have plenty of green vegetables, fruits and spices in our food.
The government can do its part by introducing odd-even scheme for cars whereby cars with odd numbers would come out on the road one day and even number cars the other day. This would reduce the number of vehicles on the road by half.
Hopefully a vaccine would arrive in a few months, leading to much more cheer across the world.