Delhi fears the worst amid smog cloud and coronavirus wave

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Delhi fears the worst amid smog cloud and coronavirus wave

New Delhi faces a double blow of deadly smog and the coronavirus

A steady stream of patients comes from New Delhi's tan atmosphere for treatment at the Breathe Better clinic, where lung specialist Davinder Kundra faces what he calls a "double blow" of deadly smog and coronavirus.

Kundra is among a growing number of doctors worried as the capital's infamous air again hits the highest levels of pollution amid a new wave of pandemics hit hospitals.

Every winter pollution season, the demand for beds in the world's most polluted capital increases due to the increase in lung diseases and chronic bronchitis.

Now coronavirus has returned after a hiatus, and new cases hit a record 7,000 a day. Some official predictions say the number 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 strongly linking air pollution to increased coronavirus deaths, Delhi Prime Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the intense annual smog from fires, cars and industry is making the pandemic crisis worse.

When Kundra was upset about an X-ray from a pneumonia patient, he said he sees at least one coronavirus suspect in his small clinic every day and orders them to get tested.

"Tiny microscopic pollutants act as carriers of the virus and penetrate deep into the lungs, so Delhi is facing a double blow due to pollution and coronavirus cases," he said.

"Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease who are exposed to increased pollution are prone to 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 people.

Davinder Kundra is among a growing number of medical doctors concerned as New Delhi's infamous air hits the highest levels of pollution again
Davinder Kundra is among a growing number of doctors worrying as New Delhi's infamous air hits high pollution levels again amid a new wave of pandemic hit hospitals

Kejriwal has banned Diwali fireworks and has taken legal action to get private hospitals to allocate more beds for COVID-19 patients.

The city has used smog guns that emit clouds of water to bring particles of pollution to the ground.

However, environmental activists like Vimlendu Jha say authorities are not taking the problem seriously and have called for the suspension of construction and even some power plants.

Every winter, the residents of Delhi carefully scan the pollution indices, which measure tiny but deadly PM 2.5 particles up to 2.5 microns wide.

A Harvard University study published last month found that an increase of just one micron per cubic meter of PM 2.5 caused an 11 percent increase in COVID-19 mortality.

Other studies show that the problem is especially dire for poorer people – such as slum dwellers – who tend to live near sources of pollution.

Doctors in Delhi have no choice but to recommend face masks and air purifiers at home, although few in slums can afford such luxury.

Navjot Kaur, who had started riding her scooter to her work as a lab technician to avoid public transport and the risk of COVID-19, said she was exposed to the smog from picking up two wheels: "Now I'm climbing out and my eyes sting I have to splash water on them. "

"The pollution has come faster this year and appears to be worse," she said.

Other residents of Delhi like software engineer Naveen Malhotra, who suffers from a respiratory disease, want to leave the city altogether because "the coronavirus is attacking the lungs".

He said, "I'm just waiting for the opportunity to move to a place where there is less pollution."

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© 2020 AFP

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