Air Clean Up
Air Pollution Linked to 15% of COVID-19 Deaths
Nov 17 2020
Prolonged exposure to poor air quality could be partially responsible for up to 15% of deaths from coronavirus around the world. Those are the findings of a new study conducted by Cypriot and German scientists, who analysed air pollution patterns and healthcare data from China and the USA to arrive at their conclusions.
It’s believed that poor quality air can exacerbate the underlying respiratory conditions faced by millions of people across the globe. This means that if they do have the misfortune to contract COVID-19, their immune systems may be too weak to fight it off. The answer, say the experts, is to concentrate on cleaning up our airways, since this will not only work to mitigate the worst symptoms of the virus, but also prolong life expectancy even after the current pandemic has passed.
An eye-opening study
The paper, which was published in the scientific journal Cardiovascular Research last month, arrived at its findings by studying health and disease records from both the United States and its main economic rival, China. As well as taking into account data on COVID-19, the researchers also assimilated records on SARS (a similarly deadly viral disease) and more general statistics on air pollution.
They then cross-referenced those numbers against data on pollution, in particular concentrating on advanced new techniques of particulate matter (PM) sensing such as satellite data and on-the-ground monitoring stations. This allowed them to determine the extent to which poor air quality could be held responsible for the huge numbers of coronavirus deaths across the globe.
They found that East Asia was the most severely affected region, with 27% of COVID-19 deaths attributable to air pollution – perhaps unsurprising given that the area is home to some of the most contaminated cities on the planet. In Europe, 19% of deaths were linked to poor air quality, while in North America the proportion was slightly lower at 17%.
Better regulation needed
Regardless of where you live, it’s clear that coronavirus is more likely to have a terminal effect on patients whose bodies are already struggling to fight off the ill-effects of exposure to contamination. “If both long-term exposure to air pollution and infection with the COVID-19 virus come together then we have an adverse effect on health, particularly with respect to the heart and blood vessels,” explained Thomas Munzel, co-author on the study.
The long-term solution? Investing in real-world measures that are designed to curb our emissions and bring down concentrations of pollutants such as PM. Given that vehicular traffic is responsible for a significant chunk of the pollution in our atmosphere, implementing initiatives which improve air quality by reducing transport-related pollution is an ideal place to start.
In the UK, the government has already announced plans to do just that, by bringing in Ultra-Low Emissions Zones (ULEZs) in several cities around the country. They also aim to phase out petrol and diesel cars by 2035 – five years prior to the previous target – in a bid to clean up the UK’s air quality. This course of action not only minimises the risks of dying from coronavirus, but also improves national health going forwards.
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