Dirty urban air expected to ramp up Europe's coronavirus death toll

Pablo Tucker
March 19, 2020

Public health experts told the French press agency AFP that pollution from petrol and diesel vehicles that causes hypertension, diabetes and respiratory problems could provoke a higher overall coronavirus death toll.

"This is likely also the case for Covid-19", said De Matteis, who is also a member of the European Respiratory Society. 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.

The number of fatalities in Italy shot up by 368 to 1,809 on Sunday - more than half of all the cases recorded outside China.

EPHA drew attention to a 2003 study of victims of the coronavirus that causes SARS, which found that patients in regions with moderate air pollution were 84% more likely to die than those in low pollution areas.

Like in Italy, the tough measures introduced by China during the outbreak have curbed air pollution, potentially saving the lives of "up to 75,000 people", according to a Stanford University researcher. Like COVID-19, it was a coronavirus, but was transmitted from cats to humans. As such, the new study adds weight to this suggestion, finding that people who were not diagnosed with COVID-19 (mainly because they did not show symptoms or felt anything) are behind at least two-thirds of the documented cases of coronavirus in China during the first few days of the outbreak before it was considered a pandemic. According to estimates made by the study (where researchers developed a computer model to simulate the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the U.S. virus that causes COVID-19), about 86 percent of all COVID-19 infections in China they were not detected before the closure of Wuhan on January 23.

"Given what we know now, it is very likely that people who are exposed to more air pollution and who are smoking tobacco products are going to fare worse if infected with [Covid-19] than those who are breathing cleaner air, and who don't smoke", Aaron Bernstein, at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health told the Washington Post.

North Italy is a hotspot of air pollution in Europe, the NGO argues, as well as being at the centre of the continent's coronavirus outbreak.

"It seems clearly incorrect and foolhardy to conclude that pandemics are good for health", he said. "Once this crisis is over, policymakers should speed up measures to get dirty vehicles off our roads", he said.

"So cleaning up the streets is a basic investment for a healthier future".

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