Breathing unclean air is linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, and respiratory disease, conditions that doctors are starting to associate with higher death rates for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Citizens in United Kingdom cities such as London, Manchester and Leeds have been warned by European health experts that exposure to air pollution could increase their risk of dying from Covid-19. Researchers studying the SARS outbreak in China in 2003 discovered that infected people living in areas with more air pollution were twice as likely to die as those in less polluted locations.
"Patients with chronic lung and heart conditions caused or worsened by long-term exposure to air pollution are less able to fight off lung infections and more likely to die", EPS member Sara De Matteis said. "This is likely also the case for COVID-19". More than 90% of the planet breathes unhealthy air, leading to seven million premature deaths per year and billions of dollars in costs for health services.
Marshall Burke, writing on the website G-Feed said: 'The reductions in air pollution in China caused by this economic disruption likely saved twenty times more lives in China than have now been lost due to infection with the virus in that country'. Since the outbreak, there has been a sharp drop in pollution levels in the region, according to satellite images taken on the 17 and 26 February.
EPHA Acting Secretary General Sascha Marschang argued that while the air may be clearing in Europe, the "damage had already been done to human health and the 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'.