Citizens in UK cities have been warned by European health experts that exposure to air pollution could increase their risk of dying from Covid-19.
The warning has come from the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), who say that doctors are starting to link higher death rates for Covid-19 to illnesses caused by air pollution such as high blood pressure, diabetes and certain respiratory illnesses.
EPHA has highlighted a 2003 study on victims of the coronavirus SARS found that patients in regions with moderate air pollution levels were 84% more likely to die than those in regions with low air pollution.
Satellite imagery has revealed a significant drop in NO2 pollution in countries that are in the worst grips of the pandemic. On Monday, NASA published images that showed how nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution over northern Italy has fallen dramatically following their government introduction of a nationwide lockdown.
EPHA acting Secretary-General Sascha Marschang said: ‘The air may be clearing in Italy, but the damage has already been done to human health and people’s ability to fight off infection. Governments should have tackled chronic air pollution long ago, but have prioritised the economy over health by going soft on the auto industry.
‘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.’
Doctors in Italy also reported a possible relationship between infringements of air pollution limits and the number of cases of Covid infections. Analysis by the Italian Society of Environmental Medicine (SIMA) and the Universities of Bari and Bologna found that particulate matter concentrations between 10-29 February coincided with the contagion of Covid up to March 3.
Atmospheric particulate matter can act as a carrier for viruses but also allows contaminants to remain in the air for a certain time, the analysis said.
Like in Italy, the tough measures introduced by China during the outbreak have curbed air pollution, potentially saving the lives of ‘up to 75,000 people’, according to a Stanford University researcher.