Covid, Pollution Looming Large, Delhi Steers Clear Of Ravan Effigies

The PM 2.5 levels have averaged around 180 to 300 micrograms per cubic meter in Delhi.

Highlights

  • Delhi went without Ravan effigies burning on Dusshera to keep air clean
  • City braces for Covid case spike as pollution rises and winter approaches
  • Delhi may see up to 15,000 Covid cases daily in winter, as per a report
New Delhi:

Delhi -- bracing for a spike in coronavirus cases as pollution levels rise and winter approaches -- went without the traditional burning of Ravan effigies on Dusshera today, to keep the air clean. But by early evening, the city was enveloped by a thick haze and the air quality index showed "very poor" category in busy areas.  

A report by National Centre for Disease Control on October 8 said Delhi may see up to 15,000 Covid cases daily in winter. Over the last two days, the daily spike has been more than 4,000 -- the needle going up again after Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the city was past the peak of the disease.

"The situation is very complex. More and more people are getting cough and other respiratory issues and that is because of pollution. The number of severe cases of Covid that we have had for the last few weeks, its not going down," said Dr Rajesh Malhotra, the chief of the Covid facility at the AIIMS Trauma Center.

A Harvard University study has shown that an increase of only one microgram per cubic metre in PM (Particulate Matter) 2.5 is associated with an 8 per cent increase in the Covid-19 death rate.

But in Delhi, the PM 2.5 levels have averaged around 180 to 300 micrograms per cubic meter over the recent weeks. This is 12 times higher than the safe limits laid down by the World Health Organisation.

An Air Quality Index or AQI of at 352 was the overall reading for the city and areas like Anand Vihar (407),  Jahangirpuri (416) and Bawana (422) recorded "severe" levels of air pollution.

Concern about pollution has also affected Dussehra celebrations. Arjun Kumar, Head of Luv Kush Ramleela committee, told NDTV that celebrations across the city are at a very "low scale". "Keeping pollution in mind, even in the one or two Ramleelas happening have not installed any Ravana effigies for burning," he added.

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"Pollution and Covid are the biggest 'rakshas' (evils) of today. I appeal to everybody that all of you take an oath to celebrate a pollution-free Dussehra and Diwali and fight the evils of Covid and pollution together," said Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, shooting a symbolic Ravana effigy with a bow and arrow at his home in east Delhi.

The government claims it is taking all measures to control the situation. "As soon as anybody is found positive, we carry out contact tracing and immediately isolate the people. The doubling rate of cases is 70 days," said Delhi's health minister Satyender Jain.  

But stubble burning in the neighbouring states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, which experts say is one of the key causes of the pollution in Delhi, is continuing unchecked.

"Stubble burning has contributed 15-20 per cent of the pollution," said environmentalist Vimlendu Jha, who heads Swechha, a Delhi-based youth and environment organization.

"Politicians should look into this, and not start a blame game. Need collective action from Bihar, UP, Haryana and Delhi government. The Prime Minister should play a role in this," he added.