The office for National Statistics (ONS) published a report claiming that there is a strong link between air pollution and coronavirus as the report said that people are seven percent more likely to die of coronavirus if they are exposed to air pollution. That’s why black and Asian people are more likely to die of coronavirus in Wales and England as a majority of them live in polluted areas but the links between deaths and race were found to be inconclusive, according to the report.
The ONS analyzed all the coronavirus deaths in England so far and concluded that a small or a single-unit increase in the pollution the people are exposed to over the past decade, may increase their death rate by 6%. Similarly, a single-unit increase in nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is present at illegal levels in some areas, can increase the death rate by 2%.
These increase in death rates are much smaller as compared to some other researches, like a study in the US found an increase of 8% in death rate and a study in the Netherland found the increase to be 15%. The data on this study is so far available as average for a group of people so a definitive conclusion on the link between air pollution and coronavirus cannot be made till individual-level data is examined. The ONS has started collecting data on an individual basis for patients in London.
The report further stated that consistent exposure to air pollution is known to cause long term conditions in the heart and lungs and is also a known cause of breathing difficulties. The data shows that nearly 35% of deaths from coronavirus had cardiovascular disease or respiratory disease as the pre-existing condition.
A thing to consider however is that towns and cities have both air pollution and also high deprivation, dense population, high rates of coronavirus, and poor health. The ONS report which was the first of its kind took account of some of these factors but taking the impact of each factor individually will be a difficult challenge.
This particularly applies to ethnic minorities as they are exposed to more pollution and dirty air than others. According to the ONS, it is impossible to completely separate the effects of pollution and race but said that if there is a causal link between air pollution and coronavirus related deaths, then the disparities in the death rate of ethnic minorities can be explained.
Professor Mathew Cole of the University of Birmingham and who carried out the research on the effect of pollution on death rates in the Netherlands didn’t like the method ONS uses for grouping the data and believes it’s a real shame as there are doubts if the estimated results are driven by this unconventional method.
The expert air pollution advisers of the UK government stated in July that pollution is likely increasing the severity and number of coronavirus infections. They also believed that further investigation of the link between air pollution and coronavirus is required to understand the seriousness of the matter. Also in the same month, a study of coronavirus patients was conducted in Birmingham which found a link between air pollution and poor-standard and overcrowded homes to the severe impact of coronavirus on people from ethnic minorities.