Representational image for the lockdown in national capital Delhi | Photo: Bloomberg
Representational image for the lockdown in national capital Delhi | Photo: Bloomberg
Text Size:

The evidence we have is pretty clear that people who have been living in places that are more polluted over time, that they are more likely to die from coronavirus.”

That’s the stark assessment of Aaron Bernstein, the director of the Center for Climate, Health, and Global Environment at Harvard University.

Researchers in Cambridge came to a similar conclusion, with a study that found more cases of COVID-19, and resulting deaths, in areas of England with high levels of air pollution.

While the studies are ongoing, the initial findings come as no surprise to Maria Neira, an expert on air pollution at the World Health Organisation.

“We cannot prove any correlation between air pollution and the mortality caused by COVID-19, but it’s clear that, if you smoke or if you are exposed to air pollution for a long time, your lungs will be more vulnerable and you will be more vulnerable to any type of respiratory diseases,” Neira told this week’s World Vs Virus podcast.

“So more studies will be needed. What we know for sure is that air pollution is already killing 7 million people prematurely people around the world. Therefore, no matter what, we have to tackle the causes of air pollution.

The policy recommendations from all of those studies will be: tackle the causes of air pollution, reduce air pollution, increase the quality of the air you breathe … this is what I call a ‘no-regrets’ investment. because we need to do it.”

We are deeply grateful to our readers & viewers for their time, trust and subscriptions.

Quality journalism is expensive and needs readers to pay for it. Your support will define our work and ThePrint’s future.


There are two consequences of the pandemic that might mean those investments – in cleaner transport and energy, for example – are more likely to happen.

One is the ‘Great Reset‘: as governments have to invest to rebuild their economies, they have a chance to make better choices.

“I will push enormously for all of those stimulus packages to go in the right direction, to make sure that the healthy and green transition is in place,” Neira said.

The other consequence of COVID-19 is that lockdown has meant many people in big, polluted cities – New Delhi for example – have enjoyed clean air for the first time in their lives, and would strongly prefer not to go back to how things were. And that should mean stronger public support for measures to reduce pollution.

Anti-pollution group the Clean Air Fund commissioned an opinion poll that quizzed more than 1,000 people in each of five countries: India, Nigeria, Britain, Poland and Bulgaria, on their views on air pollution. In all of them, a huge majority said they were concerned and wanted more action to clean up the air.

“This is a clear mandate for … politicians to make sure that, at the very least, economic stimulus does not increase air pollution,” Clean Air Fund Executive Director Jane Burston told World Vs Virus.

“But at the same time, (it’s) a huge opportunity to do quite the opposite and decrease pollution and to create much more resilience, both for individuals, countries and the health system.”

Robin Pomeroy, Digital Editor, World Economic Forum. 

This article was originally published in the World Economic Forum.

Also read: How cities are promoting walking & cycling to reach work post-Covid


Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

News media is in a crisis & only you can fix it

You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.

You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.

We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And we aren’t even three yet.

At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly and on time even in this difficult period. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is. Our stellar coronavirus coverage is a good example. You can check some of it here.

This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it. Because the advertising market is broken too.

If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous, and questioning journalism, please click on the link below. Your support will define our journalism, and ThePrint’s future. It will take just a few seconds of your time.

Support Our Journalism

Share Your Views


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here