India's capital suffers most toxic air in a year, heightening coronavirus worries

Delhi's air pollution typically worsens in October and November. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - New Delhi, the capital city with the worst air quality worldwide, suffered its most toxic day in a year on Thursday (Nov 5), recording the concentration of poisonous PM2.5 particles at 14 times over the World Health Organisation safe limit.

A raging coronavirus epidemic, with more than 400,000 confirmed cases in the city of 20 million, has heightened alarm over the health hazard posed by the choking smog, with doctors warning of a sharp increase in respiratory illnesses.

"At this time in Delhi, coronavirus and pollution are causing a major havoc," Mr Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi's chief minister said in a recorded video on Twitter.

"We are seeing all round the sky is covered with smoke, and because of this the situation from coronavirus is worsening."

The deadly PM2.5 particles are less than 2.5 microns in diameter, can penetrate the lung barrier and enter the blood system, potentially causing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases including lung cancer, according to WHO.

"Woke up with a feeling that poisonous garbage is stuck in my windpipe," said Mr Rahul Ojha, a resident who tagged government authorities in a tweet, blaming them for inaction.

Delhi's air pollution typically worsens in October and November due to farmers burning off stubble in surrounding states, traffic fumes and windless days.

On Thursday (Nov5 ), the federal air quality and weather monitoring agency recorded 4,135 incidents of farm fires - the highest of the season. Firecrackers ignited for a Hindu festival on Wednesday added to the problem, some people said.

The average PM2.5 level was 370 per cubic m of air against the WHO's prescribed safe limit of 25 per cubic m.

The overall air quality index (AQI), which includes other pollutants besides PM2.5 particles, crossed 460 on a scale of 500, the worst since Nov 14, 2019.

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New Delhi was found to be the world's most polluted capital for the third straight year in 2020. Indian cities made up 35 of the top 50 cities with the worst air quality according to a study.

If the air quality stays in the severe zone for 48 hours, the authorities could bar vehicles entering Delhi, shut down construction, and stop half the cars owned by residents from being driven on roads through an odd-even scheme.

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