The Indian Council of Medical Research on Tuesday cited international studies to say that rising air pollution levels will add to coronavirus mortality, reported Mint. It added that wearing masks was the only effective way to tackle the twin public health crises.

“It is well-known that pollution is one of the most important aspects of death,” said ICMR Director General Balram Bhargava at a virtual briefing. “First being malnutrition, then tobacco, high blood pressure, and pollution… On pollution related to Covid-19 mortality, there have been some studies in Europe and the United States. They have looked at polluted areas, and have compared the mortality during lockdown and correlation with pollution, and have found clearly that pollution is contributing to the morality in Covid-19. That is well established by these studies.”

According to a study published in Cardiovascular Research on Tuesday, scientists estimated that about 15% of deaths worldwide from Covid-19 could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution. In East Asia, about 27% of the deaths could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution, while it was 19% in Europe and 17% in North America.

The air quality of Delhi-NCR typically deteriorates in the winter. Earlier this month, the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority had asked the Uttar Pradesh and Haryana governments to be ready to shut down thermal power plants that do not meet requirements laid down in 2015. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had urged Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar to hold monthly meetings on pollution with the chief ministers of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab.

In October, Delhi Pollution Control Committee had banned the use of electricity generator sets of all capacities – whether running on diesel, petrol or kerosene – in order to curb the pollution. The committee had also declared the whole of the Union Territory of Delhi as an Air Pollution Control Area.

Meanwhile, NITI Aayog member VK Paul said they have requested state governments to “wait for the overall [vaccine] picture to become clear” before making any promises, reported The Indian Express. He added that there was no vaccine till date. “We are working on vaccine scale-up… in that regard the access to the vaccine will be in such a way that if the vaccine supply is not unlimited, prioritisation has to be done… overall we can say that resources will not be an issue in ensuring the access to vaccine as it unfolds,” Paul said.

Over 100 vaccines are being developed around the world to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. A vaccine developed with University of Oxford has been widely seen as one of the leading candidates against the infection.

Paul added that a “national approach towards engaging with companies, deciding the criteria for the vaccine, etc” was the need of the hour. His comments come days after the Bharatiya Janata Party promised free coronavirus vaccines in Bihar ahead of the Assembly elections in the state. The party was heavily criticised for politicising the health crisis.

Paul also said Delhi was experiencing a third peak. The national Capital on Tuesday recorded 4,853 new coronavirus cases – its biggest single-day jump – taking the city’s tally to 3,64,341. The toll rose to 6,356 with 44 more deaths.

However, India has been registering fewer new cases for the past few days. The country reported 10 lakh recoveries in a span of 13 days, taking the recovery rate to 90.62%. “Our trend [of decline in cases] is a good sign,” said Paul. “However, the trend in three states, in Kerala, West Bengal, and Delhi are worrisome. Delhi is having a third peak.”

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