Health experts are blaming the air pollution in urban areas for the surge in coronavirus death rates. As the disease spreads globally, health officials have warned that individuals over 60 and those with underlying health conditions might be more susceptible to it.

Air pollution has been reported to have a higher impact on lower-income as well as non-white communities, mentioned Fox News.

Per a 2018 study, air pollution is responsible for about 8 million premature deaths every year. Respiratory infections like the coronavirus might have a worse impact on the public exposed to toxic air compared to others.

“Given what we know now, it is very likely that people who are exposed to more air pollution and who are smoking tobacco products are going to fare worse if infected with [Covid-19] than those who are breathing cleaner air, and who don’t smoke,” The Washington Post quoted Aaron Bernstein, at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

A 2003 study reported that during the SARS outbreak in China then, infected people living in areas with more air pollution were two times more likely to die compared to those living in less-polluted regions.

“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,” Sascha Marschang, the acting secretary-general of the European Public Health Alliance, said to The Guardian.

While the mortality data for COVID-19 is incomplete, the European Environment Agency reported that air pollution leads to 400,000 premature deaths across the continent every year. One coronavirus hotspot – northern Italy was found to have high levels of PM10- microscopic particles of pollution due to road traffic. The number of deaths in Italy rose to 1,809- more than half of all the cases recorded outside China. And the shutdown has led to a significant reduction in air pollutants namely nitrous oxide and small particulate matter in the air, mentioned Euractiv.

“Governments should have tackled chronic air pollution long ago, but have prioritized the economy over health by going soft on the auto industry. Science tells us that epidemics like COVID-19 will occur with increasing frequency,” Euractiv quoted EPHA Acting Secretary-General Sascha Marschang. “So cleaning up the streets is a basic investment for a healthier future,” he added.

Researchers say the health impacts of air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels is significantly underestimated by authorities Researchers say the health impacts of air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels is significantly underestimated by authorities. Photo: AFP / Farooq NAEEM