Diwali is one of India’s most popular festivals, celebrated by millions of people with immense joy. Given how grim the year has been since the onset of pandemic and associated economic crisis, people have their hopes clinging to the festival of lights to shed some positivity to this dreary year. For most it’s a chance to FINALLY offset some of that mental fatigue which has set in over the last 7 odd months of lockdown, social distancing, and various prescribed restraints. Clearly, for many, Diwali is an opportunity to uplift spirits by FINALLY visiting malls, shopping centres, and meeting friends & family. However, the grim reality is, these are precisely the reasons why the health & well-being threat is likely to increase manifold over this festive period.
Merely four days before Diwali, Delhi witnessed extremely ruthless air quality averaging more than 800 in most parts of the city, while several others surpassed even the 1,000 mark, as evident from the picture below. This is one of the most severe levels of exposure to air pollution, leading to some of the worst health impacts for those breathing this air in. To give you some perspective, the average AQI for Delhi between January to September is moderate (between 101-200), and this goes up to 400-700 range in the October to December period, with the worst peaks witnessed during the Diwali days. When you compare it with the air quality averages of between 100-150 in this same Diwali period for cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad, you know EXACTLY how bad it is for Delhi folks – a far cry from the demands of #SaalBharSaath (year-round AQI of 60) that we crave.
As if poor air quality woes weren’t enough, the COVID-19 cases in this period have begun to climb once again. The number of daily new cases, which were declining to well under 5,000 until mid-October, have been constantly rising. In fact, Delhi recorded highest ever new cases of 8, 593on a single day. It is not hard to understand that intermingling of people, leading to close proximity, especially market areas is playing a huge role. Whether it is the caution fatigue or need, people are venturing out in large numbers. At a time, when risk of pandemic continues to loom over us, these pictures of Delhi markets spell an ominous next few days.
Unfortunately, Delhi is choking on the cocktail of air pollution and pandemic. Several studies citing a correlation between exposure to high pollution levels and vulnerability to COVID-19 have been published. The virus and high AQI are perceived to be a dangerous combination: air pollution causes damage and inflammation in the lungs and other body tissues, reducing the body’s ability to resist the virus, which further aggravates damage caused due to infection. The risk of transmission is, thus, expected to increase as air pollution levels go up, more particles in the air may be regarded as a co-factor in aggravating the disease. Notably, in countries with the highest number of heavy polluters, where pollution surged the most, daily cases of covid-19 spiked nearly 40% and death rose about 20%, according to a recent study.
This peak crisis caused by the twindemic calls for active consideration and action on account of each one of us, and not just the government alone, as far as safeguarding our health is concern in the immediate context. Threat to our wellbeing in the current scenario is a harsh reality of our times, which demands much higher level of response from each one of us than ever. While mitigation of air pollution is the long term solution, adapting to wade through the crisis must not be undermined. It all starts with prioritizing our health and wellbeing, and making room for behavioural change to ensure non-negotiable adoption of practices such as wearing of masks, limiting outdoor exposure, keeping immunity levels high, using air purifiers (if possible/affordable) etc. ‘We are living in such times when we cannot take breathable air for granted. Aides like oxygen cans must be included in first aid kits everywhere to fight sudden bouts of breathlessness, not an uncommon experience of people lately, said Mr. Anand Gupta, CEO, MyOxy, leading manufacturers of oxygen supplements aides.
Let’s celebrate Diwali this year by resolving to prioritise our health and going that extra mile to keep ourselves and our families safe from the #Twindemic, so that we can enjoy future festivals without worrying.