What is the link between air pollution and coronavirus?

27th Mar 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has led to huge drop in air pollution. In a new CIHT podcast Paul Monks, professor of air pollution at the University of Leicester, discusses the important lessons to learn. Monks is the former chair of the UK government’s science advisory committee on air quality.

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Overview

The interview explores what exposure to air pollution might mean with regards to risk with COVID-19 and the emerging evidence-base around if airborne pollution particles can carry viruses and bacteria.  

As Professor Monks said in the interview:  "What we are seeing in the UK at the moment is substantial reductions in air pollution....across a number of major cities:  London, Edinburgh and Bristol we are seeing at least a 50% reduction in some of those air pollutants compared to the same time last year".  

Air pollution, according to the World Health Organisation, is one of the top five global health risks.  As air pollution has an affect on peoples' respiratory systems, it was interesting to find out, that, according to Professor Monks that: "There was some research put out last week that suggested that, as air pollution causes airway inflammation, that it could hasten the affect of people, particular of susceptible people, to Covid-19".  Although he does caveat this by saying there are many underlying conditions that make people susceptible to coronavirus.

There could also be the case that improving air quality, could have an impact of the spread of future pandemics.  Professor Monks said:  "I think there is evidence in the literature [of particulate matter carrying viruses and bacteria], we do some work here at [the University of] Leicester that looks at particulate matter and whether it is vector - whether it can carry bacteria in particular - and we found that it can."  

Professor Monks outlines a potential silver lining in being able to see what can happen if there are large-scale actions to turn off air pollution. The moves to electrification of the vehicle fleet offers one route to doing this.

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