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Friday, September 29, 2023

Air pollution linked with Europe’s high coronavirus fatalities

Europe appears to be the continent most afflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic. While 186,859 people have died in Europe since the beginning of the pandemic, the death toll is 141,979 people in North America and 56,391 people in South America.

air Pollution
Vehicular traffic is a major source of air pollution in Germany

In Asia, where the pandemic started at the turn of 2019 and 2020, 44,958 people have died of the coronavirus. In contrast, 5,853 people have died of the coronavirus in all of Africa. Of the 10 worst hit countries of the world, six are in Europe.

“In Europe, the coronavirus pandemic has already claimed more lives than the war in the former Yugoslavia,” said Dalibor Dostal, Director of European Wildlife. The death toll of the conflict on the Balkan peninsula was about 140 thousand victims.

According to scientists, one of the causes of the substantially higher death toll in Europe than in other continents may be air pollution. A team headed by chemist Leonardo Setti from the University of Bologna in Northern Italy was one of the first to point this out during an investigation into why the virus is spreading far more quickly in Northern Italy – specifically in the industrialised Po Plain – than in other parts of the country.

The experts ascertained that the daily balance of confirmed infection cases in Northern Italy is closely related to the pollution level, which may be down to two different reasons. Their hypothesis favours the explanation that solid dust particles in the atmosphere may carry the virus on their surface. The Po Plain has a significantly higher concentration of these particles than the rest of the country.

The scientists based their judgement on previous studies that state that other viruses may spread in a similar manner – for instance, those that cause Influenza, infections of the respiratory tract or measles. The second explanation for the correlation between both phenomena may also be the fact that a high concentration of dust particles in the atmosphere increases susceptibility to disease.

“The number of coronavirus victims in the European Union exceeds the number of victims in the United States of America by tens. Europe should not let itself be lulled by the belief that the international statistics are distorted, that the number of victims in the USA is given for the whole country while the number is stated for individual member states in Europe,“ added Dostal.

According to him, Europe must learn from the current crisis. Apart from stricter checks of passengers coming from non-EU countries, the quality of the air must mainly be improved.

“Europe must in a major way reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants, factories, as well as transport. In particular the number of diesel engines, which are a significant source of dust particles, should continue to be lowered in the car sector. At the same time, Europe needs a strategy to support electric vehicles, which would speed up the rise of emission-free vehicles,“ he said.

According to him, the smog-reduction measures should be an integral part of the measures to save the European economy.

“We owe this to the almost two hundred thousand people who have fallen victim to the coronavirus in Europe,” Dostal stated. The coronavirus has globally infected 7,623,415 people, of whom 424,332 people have died of it. Almost half of the victims are from Europe.

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