Air pollution could not only weaken the state of health of populations facing an epidemic of coronavirus, and therefore weigh on the mortality rate, as already pointed out by the NGOs. It would outright accelerate the spread of the disease.
This hypothesis is supported by a dozen researchers and doctors from the Italian Society of Environmental Medicine (Societa italiana di medicina ambientale, Sima). In a recent study revealed by economic daily life Il Sole 24 Ore, they underline the existence of a relationship between the exceedances of the regulatory limits relating to PM10 and PM2.5 suspended particles and the number of people suffering from coronavirus.
Particularly obvious coincidences in the Po Valley
The researchers notably analyzed the air pollution data recorded in Italy by the regional environmental protection agencies between 10 and 29 February, and linked them to the information provided by the Italian civil protection on the number of contaminations, taking into account the maximum incubation period estimated at 14 days. They observed a correspondence between the curves, particularly evident in the area of northern Italy which concentrated the vast majority of the country’s coronavirus cases.
Here were observed “abnormal accelerations “ expansion of the infection, “obviously coinciding, at a distance of two weeks, with the highest concentrations of atmospheric particles”, written Il Sole 24 Ore.
Brescia is thus among the cities both the most polluted and the most affected by the epidemic. On the contrary Rome, where cases of coronavirus were discovered at the same time as in the North of the country, experienced a much slower evolution of the disease, notes the daily.
The distance of one meter questioned
The researchers deduce that the particles played a role in accelerating the spread of the virus.
“The high concentrations of dust recorded in the Po valley in February caused an acceleration of the spread of Covid19. The effect is particularly evident in the provinces where there were the first outbreaks” of the epidemic, notes the one of the study’s authors, Leonardo Setti from the University of Bologna.
The particles would indeed physically transport the virus, thus playing the role of“highways” for infection, summarizes another author of the study, Gianluigi de Gennaro, from the University of Bari. An idea which in itself is not new reminds Il Sole 24 Ore, since the hypothesis that pollution plays a role in the transmission of other infections is already in the scientific literature. But which in this case calls into question the effectiveness of the precautionary measures recommended by the public authorities:
“The current distance considered to be safe (1 meter, note) may not be sufficient,” said Sima president Alessandro Miani.
“Emissions should be minimized”, therefore concludes Gianluigi de Gennaro.
Containment lowers pollution
However, if public policies have so far failed to reduce air pollution, new data confirms that the pandemic is paradoxically helping. In northern Italy, where the epidemic has been raging since the end of February, and most activities have been suspended, the European atmospheric monitoring program Copernicus recently found “a trend of gradual reduction of around 10% per week over the past four to five weeks” another pollutant, nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
– ESA EarthObservation (@ESA_EO) March 13, 2020
NO2 reduction has also been observed in China, by Copernicus as well as by NASA.
Sentinel-5P currently provides the most accurate measurements of NO2 and other trace gases from space.
– ESA EarthObservation (@ESA_EO) March 19, 2020
– NASA Earth (@NASAEarth) February 28, 2020