New Delhi: Fragments of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have been found in suspended particulate matter (pm) that are the major contributors to air pollution, Dr Balram Bhargava, Secretary, Department of Health Research, said Tuesday.
Noting that it is well-known that pollution is one of four contributors to deaths in society apart from malnutrition, tobacco and high blood pressure, Dr Bhargava said, “Some studies in the US and from Europe have looked at polluted areas and compared mortalities during and after lockdown. They found a correlation between pollution and COVID deaths … a study in Boston by the Harvard (T.H.) Chan Institute found particles of the virus on PM2.5 particles. Whether they are active or not … virus particles have been demonstrated on suspended particulate matter.”
The scientist was responding to a question on the link between Covid-19 mortality and pollution.
The correlation is significant given that the National Capital Region is recording severe levels of air pollution, as it usually does this time of year, while the Covid pandemic continues.
Dr Bhargava advocated strict adherence to wearing masks, which give dual protection against Covid and pollution, and cited the example of cities like Tokyo where people have made it a constant habit. He reiterated that masks and social distancing remained the most cost-effective preventive measures.
Must keep up surveillance
While India’s Covid-19 numbers have shown a significant dip over the last few weeks, both Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan and Niti Aayog member (health) Dr V.K. Paul emphasised the need to keep up vigilance in terms of compliance to Covid-appropriate behaviour and also for governments to keep up contact-tracing.
The top five states with the highest Covid burden have remained more or less static, but Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, West Bengal and Maharashtra accounted for 58 per cent of deaths in the last 24 hours. Of the new cases reported in the last 24 hours, 49.4 per cent were from Delhi, Karnataka, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Delhi.
Dr Paul flagged the issue of Delhi testing less than it did a few weeks ago, but Bhushan noted that the national capital had recorded 4,000 cases for three consecutive days, indicating that testing does not seem to be coming down.
“This is a crucial time because we are seeing the disease coming back with more force in many European countries. Track, test, trace and treat is our strategy and there is no room for any laxity. For each positive case, ideally 15-20 people should be quarantined to prevent the spread of the disease. People paid heed to the PM’s appeal and were very cautious during the festivals. We have to continue this,” Dr Paul said.
No Kawasaki-linked Covid cases in India
Addressing concerns of children being afflicted with Kawasaki disease — a rare condition that causes inflammation of blood vessels, usually in younger kids — Dr Bhargava said, “We have no experience of Kawasaki Disease and Covid in India at the moment. This affects very small children and clots can form in the arteries.”
While a political war seems to have broken out over states promising free vaccines, Bhushan and Paul — both members of the national technical group formed to handle the vaccine distribution logistics — refused to comment on the matter.
“We are looking at prioritising vaccine access based on availability and other issues. We are also ramping up the cold chain infrastructure,” Dr Paul said.
Further, he ruled out testing the vaccines on children immediately, citing that vaccines are first tested for safety in adults before being given to children.