New Dehli – A familiar scene is taking place in northern India. Vast field burn, flames engulfing bare stalks of already-harvested crop and billowing smoke travels across state borders. In towns and cities, the air is thick with yellow haze.
Stubble burning, the practice of intentionally setting fire to cultivated fields to prepare the land for its next crop, is one of the chief drivers of India’s so-called annual pollution season, which begins each winter.
India has long faced this annual pollution problem: 21 of the 30 cities with the worst air pollution in the world are in India, according to IQAir AirVisual’s 2019 World Air Quality Report.
New Dehli has been ranked as the most polluted city in the world, and the air quality last year reached levels more than 20 times what the World Health Organisation (WHO) considered “safe”.
Residents are health workers are now bracing for the double public health threat of the pollution and the coronavirus pandemic.
“With the Covid pandemic prevailing worldwide and pollution level spiking simultaneously, there is definitely an increased risk of higher numbers and severity of Covid-19 infection increasing,” said Dr. Suranjit Chatterjee, Senior Consultant of Internal Medicine in Dehli’s Indraprastha Apollo Hospital.
“Because of the cold air, the virus can survive in the environment for a much longer time and therefore, be more infectious,” said AIIMS’s Guleria.