New Delhi (AFP)
A steady stream of patients emerge from the brownish atmosphere of New Delhi to seek treatment at the Breathe Better Clinic, where lung specialist Davinder Kundra faces what he calls the ‘double whammy’ of deadly smog and coronavirus .
Kundra is among a growing number of medics who are concerned as the capital’s notorious air again reaches the highest pollution levels as a new wave of pandemic hits hospitals.
Each winter pollution season, the demand for beds increases in the world’s most polluted capital due to an increase in lung disease and chronic bronchitis.
Now the coronavirus has returned after a lull, with new cases hitting a record 7,000 per day. According to some official forecasts, this figure could soon exceed 12,000.
India already has the second highest number of cases in the world – 8.5 million – behind the United States.
With studies establishing a strong link between air pollution and increased coronavirus deaths, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the intense annual smog from fires on farms, cars and industry would aggravate the pandemic crisis.
While worried about the x-ray of a patient with pneumonia, Kundra said he spotted at least one coronavirus suspect a day in his small clinic and ordered them to get tested.
“Tiny microscopic pollutants act as vectors for the virus and penetrate deep into the lungs. Delhi is therefore facing a double whammy because of pollution and cases of coronavirus, ”he said.
“Patients who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and who are exposed to increased pollution are likely to have more severe forms of the infection. ”
– Smog guns –
With more residents on the streets ahead of India’s main holiday, Diwali – the festival of light – on Saturday, doctors fear dark days for the city of 20 million.
Kejriwal has banned Diwali firecrackers and has launched a lawsuit to force private hospitals to reserve more beds for patients with Covid-19.
The city has deployed smog cannons, which project water clouds intended to bring pollution particles back to the ground.
But environmental activists such as Vimlendu Jha say authorities are not serious about the problem and have demanded suspensions on construction and even some power plants.
Every winter, people in Delhi carefully examine the pollution indices, which measure tiny but deadly PM 2.5 particles, up to 2.5 microns in width.
A Harvard University study published last month said that an increase of just one micron per cubic meter of PM 2.5 causes an 11% increase in mortality from Covid-19.
Other studies indicate that the problem is particularly severe for poorer people – such as slum dwellers – who tend to live closer to sources of pollution.
With no respite in sight, doctors in Delhi have little choice but to recommend face masks and air purifiers in the home, though few slums can afford such luxuries.
Navjot Kaur, who had started riding her scooter to her job as a lab technician to avoid public transport and the risk of Covid-19, said riding two wheels had left her exposed to smog: “Now , I go down and my eyes itch, I have to spray them with water. ”
“The pollution has come faster this year and looks worse,” she says.
Other Delhi residents like software engineer Naveen Malhotra, who suffers from respiratory illness, want to leave the city entirely because “the coronavirus attacks the lungs.”
He said: “I’m just waiting for an opportunity to move to a place where there is less pollution. “
© 2020 AFP