Long-term exposure to air pollution can contribute to mortality in COVID-19 cases: ICMR DG

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New Delhi, Oct 27 (PTI) Studies in Europe and the US have established that long-term exposure to air pollution can contribute to mortality in COVID-19 cases, ICMR Director General Balram Bhargava said on Tuesday.

He stressed that studies have found 'virus particles remain suspended with PM 2.5 particulate matter, but they are not active viruses'.

'There have been studies in Europe and the US, where they have looked at polluted areas and compared mortality during lockdown and correlation with pollution... they found that pollution is clearly contributing to mortality in COVID-19 and that's well established by these studies,' Bhargava said at a press conference.

Every winter, the air quality in north India, including in Delhi, dips to a dangerous low. Experts have warned that high levels of air pollution can aggravate the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is well-proven that pollution is related to mortality, Bhargava said and asserted that the most inexpensive prevention for COVID-19 and pollution is rapid and widespread adoption of wearing masks.

He said in some cities with high pollution levels, people wear masks even when there is no pandemic. 'Following COVID-appropriate behaviour, be it wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene, do not cost us anything. Wearing a mask has a double advantage as it can protect one from COVID-19 as well as from pollution,' the ICMR chief said.

About the spread of coronavirus infection among children in India, he said the country's overall figure show that of the total COVID-19 positive cases, only eight per cent are below the age of 17.

'For those below five years, the figure would be probably less than one per cent,' Bhargava said, adding there is some evidence that children 'can be spreaders, rather super-spreaders'. In response to a question Bhargava said that India, so far, has not reported any cases of Kawasaki disease among COVID-19 patients.

Kawasaki is an auto-immune disease that affects children who are less than five years and presents with fever, thrombocytosis and a condition in which the arteries of the heart become dilated.

'It is less common in India. This has been described with COVID-19 in different parts of the world. I don't think we have had any experience of Kawasaki with COVID-19 in India so far. It is a very rare condition,' Bhargava said. PTI PLB UZM NSD