Delhi – bracing for an increase in coronavirus cases as pollution levels rise and winter approaches – went without the traditional burning of Ravan effigies on Dusshera today, to keep the air clean. But by the early evening, the city was shrouded in heavy haze and the air quality index indicated a “very bad” category in busy areas.
An October 8 report from the National Center for Disease Control said Delhi could see up to 15,000 cases of Covid per day in winter. In the past two days, the daily peak has been over 4,000 – the needle has risen again after Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the city passed the peak of the disease.
“The situation is very complex. More and more people are having coughs and other respiratory problems and this is due to pollution. The number of severe cases of Covid that we have had in recent weeks is not decreasing,” said Dr Rajesh Malhotra, head of the Covid center at the AIIMS trauma center.
A Harvard University study showed that an increase of just one microgram per cubic meter of PM (particles) 2.5 is associated with an 8% increase in the death rate from Covid-19.
But in Delhi, PM 2.5 levels have averaged around 180 to 300 micrograms per cubic meter in recent weeks. That’s 12 times higher than the safe limits set by the World Health Organization.
An Air Quality Index or AQI of 352 was the overall reading for the city and areas like Anand Vihar (407), Jahangirpuri (416) and Bawana (422) recorded “severe” levels of air pollution.
Concerns about pollution also affected the Dussehra celebrations. Arjun Kumar, head of the Luv Kush Ramleela committee, told GalacticGaming that the celebrations across the city are taking place on a very “small scale”. “Keeping pollution in mind, even in the case of one or two Ramleelas, we did not install any Ravana effigies to burn,” he added.
“Pollution and Covid are the biggest ‘rakshas’ (evils) of today. I call on everyone to take the oath to celebrate a pollution-free Dussehra and Diwali and to fight together against the ailments from Covid and pollution, ”the deputy chief said. Minister Manish Sisodia, drawing a symbolic effigy of Ravana with a bow and arrow at his home in east Delhi.
The government claims it is taking all measures to control the situation. “As soon as someone is found positive, we do a contact tracing and immediately isolate the people. The doubling case rate is 70 days, ”Delhi Minister of Health Satyender Jain said.
But thatch burning in the neighboring states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, which experts say is one of the main causes of pollution in Delhi, continues unchecked.
“Stubble burning has contributed 15-20% of the pollution,” said environmentalist Vimlendu Jha, who heads Swechha, a Delhi-based youth and environment organization.
“Politicians should look into this and not play a blame game. Collective action from the government of Bihar, UP, Haryana and Delhi is needed. The prime minister should play a role in this.” , he added.