- Both COVID-19 cases and air pollution level are on a rise in Delhi
- Air pollution makes the chance of infection more severe: Dr Guleria
- Dr Guleria asked citizens to be responsible and follow COVID behavior
New Delhi: For the last five days, Delhi has been reporting over 5,000 fresh cases of COVID-19 daily. With a sudden spike in cases, Delhi’s Coronavirus tally is nearing 4 lakh. According to Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain, there could be a possibility of the third wave of COVID-19 in Delhi. What’s adding to the Coronavirus pandemic is the annual problem of air pollution in the national capital and the onset of winters. The pollution levels in Delhi-NCR have been oscillating between ‘poor’ and ‘very poor’ category. According to the data by Central Pollution Control Board, as of November 2, 4 PM, Delhi has an air quality index of 293 falling in the ‘poor’ category. According to health experts, air pollution might aggravate COVID-19. NDTV spoke to Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, AIIMS, to understand the COVID trends in Delhi and the plausible effect of the upcoming festive season.
NDTV: Delhi has reported a new peak and is recording over 5,000 positive cases. What does this tell us? Are we looking at a third wave?
Dr Randeep Guleria: In my mind, to say, it’s a third wave, you have to have a second wave coming down to an extent that you say cases were down significantly for a sufficiently long period of time. When we had the second wave, the cases went up to around 4,000 or more and they came down to 2,000 but not for a substantially long time. This is just a resurgence of the second wave. We are still seeing an ongoing trend as far as the number of cases is concerned. It is a cause of concern because unlike what we are seeing in other parts of the country where cases are coming down, Delhi is showing an increase in the number of cases and there can be multiple factors to account for this.
NDTV: The Union Health Ministry said very categorically that air pollution is actually one of the factors leading to a spike in these cases – about 46 per cent spike in cases in the capital in the past month. How much do you think air pollution contributes to these COVID-19 cases?
Dr Randeep Guleria: There is data that is emerging and looking at the link between COVID and air pollution. There has been one paper published even in the past which looked at SARS infection in China and air pollution showing there was an increase in the severity of cases wherever there were higher levels of pollution. More recent data published from Northern Italy tends to show there is definitely a correlation that they found between air pollution and COVID cases both in terms of the number of cases and the severity of cases. That had suggested that with each one unit increase in PM2.5 the cases may go up by almost 9 per cent. Therefore, air pollution leads to a higher chance of the virus staying in the environment and it also causes inflammation of the lungs and therefore, it also predisposes to more severe infection as far as COVID-19 is concerned. The rise in air pollution, fall in temperature which also promotes more respiratory viral infection, all are contributing to a higher number of cases as far as Delhi is concerned.
NDTV: Would it be fair to say that air pollution is contributing or are you suggesting that it makes the virus more lethal in a way?
Dr Randeep Guleria: Air pollution makes the chance of infection more severe. Air pollution also causes inflammation of the lungs causing a higher chance of respiratory problems. So, air pollution leads to both increasing the number of cases but also increasing the severity of those cases. We already know that people who have compromised lungs, who have comorbidities tend to get worsening of their lung condition or heart condition because of air pollution. If COVID also causes inflammation then this will lead to much more severe illness in these individuals. There is a likelihood that you will not only have more cases but the severity may also go up. Therefore, in my mind, it is very important for us to work aggressively in trying to see whether we can for this year at least decrease air pollution to a significant extent.
NDTV: What is your prescription for that? Is it time that Delhi actually moves to N95 masks as well because just a cloth cover won’t cut it?
Dr Randeep Guleria: Two things; firstly, we should ask all individuals to follow COVID appropriate behaviour that is very important because we have to decrease the number of cases as far as COVID-19 is concerned. Secondly, for air pollution, we should be very vigilant and especially those who are at a higher risk – the elderly or those who have chronic respiratory or heart disease – should be careful about going out especially when the air quality is bad. They should avoid going out if possible or go out only at times when the AQI improves or when it is bright and sunny. The warm air causes the ground level pollutants to rise. Those who are having respiratory problems or chronic heart problems need to be careful and may need to wear a mask which also protects them against PM2.5.
NDTV: All those cyclists in the morning who have been stepping out; that has been a trend that we have seen especially during the pandemic; what would you recommend them?
Dr Randeep Guleria: If you look at the data, air quality is quite bad in the early morning hours. Especially those cyclists who have respiratory problems, allergies, and other chronic illnesses should avoid cycling early in the morning. If they really want to cycle, they should do it later in the day. This is not the best time to be out early in the morning especially if your lungs or heart is not that good.
NDTV: We have seen the government take some steps as well; at least in the national Delhi we saw there were no Durga Puja Pandals this time around and no public gathering as such is happening but yet we are seeing a spike in cases. Would you say that at this time people are still meeting privately within their bubbles and that is also dangerous at this point?
Dr Randeep Guleria: That’s true. There has to be involvement of every citizen. The government can do its part in terms of the Druga Puja pandals or the other events that are banned or stopped. But you still have to be careful about the parties that you throw inside your house or the crowd that we see in market places which was not there in the past. If you look at how things were three to four months ago when we were lifting the lockdown, people were still very observant of the basic rules of maintaining physical distancing, they would form a line outside the market. They would only go to the market if they had to buy essential things and they would continue to follow COVID appropriate behavior. Currently, that is not happening. If you look at the traffic on the road, things at market places, you would feel there is no COVID and people are going around without wearing mask, and without any physical distancing. We are actually promoting the spread of virus in various areas and we have to take responsibility. It has to be a citizen moment in terms of decreasing the spread of infection and we have seen this. In countries where this has been done for example, in South East Asia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and South Korea, they have not seen another wave coming up. They have been able to have business usual without an increase in the number of cases because they had good behavioural practices. Whereas in other parts of the world, be it Europe or the United States where this was not followed, we are seeing a huge spike in the number of cases. We should learn from what has been there in other countries and try and do that in our country if we want to have our economy also working and at the same time saving lives.
NDTV: What would your prescription be to those who are still carrying out with Diwali parties and card parties this season? If one is still catching up what would your advice to them be?
Dr Randeep Guleria: My advice is that for your own safety, for the safety of your friends and family, and for the general public, if for this year you were to forego all these events or postpone it till a better time then that will be helpful for everyone in terms of decreasing the number of cases and us coming back to normal on an earlier date rather than prolonging it. The more we do all of this, the more we are delaying the decrease in the number of cases and the more prolonged the pandemic will be in our country. Therefore, if we were to just for the next few weeks follow good COVID appropriate behavior we will be able to bring down the number of cases to an acceptable level and then we could be comfortable as far as life, in general, is concerned.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.