Amy Kazmin in New Delhi
India’s capital, New Delhi, is bracing itself for the start of its annual air pollution season, which authorities and public experts fear will exacerbate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic by causing more serious symptoms for those infected with the pathogen.
Coronavirus is circulating widely in Delhi, even though the number of new daily cases fell to less than 2,000 on Sunday, down from a peak of about 4,400 new cases two weeks ago.
However, experts warn that air pollution could have a dire impact on those who become infected with the virus in the months ahead.
Starting in October, India’s northern region is struck by thick smoke from thousands of acres of agricultural fires, set by farmers clearing their land from rice stubble to prepare for sowing their winter crop of wheat.
Such smoke, coupled with industrial emissions, dust and trash burning, contributes to a choking smog that has made New Delhi one of the world’s most polluted cities.
Pollution typically lasts for several months — reducing visibility and forcing the cancellation of school — until warm weather returns, making the dispersal of pollutants easier.
In the months since India’s March lockdown, Delhi residents have enjoyed a long stretch of unusually clean air.
But as economic activity revives and the autumn harvest starts, officials are anxious about the return of the toxic haze, which typically leads to a surge of respiratory distress and illness.
Arvind Kejriwal, New Delhi’s chief minister, has declared a “war on pollution,” which will see city authorities make a concerted effort to monitor pollution sources, especially construction dust.
However, Mr Kejriwal conceded that there were limits to how much the city could accomplish in the anti-pollution fight.