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A new theory or a new study on COVID-19 every now and then has made the pandemic more overwhelming. But that is what a new virus needs. One theory is becoming more relevant as infections close a sixth month. Coronavirus is being strongly linked to poor air quality and there is ample evidence to prove that this correlation holds ground.

Experts and researcher are finding strong connection between Mumbai’s and Delhi’s COVID cases and poor air quality in these cities. Believing these initial findings, this should easily be extrapolated to Karachi’s and Lahore’s high COVID-19 tally. Studies and research are already underway as a recent World Bank blog raises concerns for South Asia – the latest hotspots for coronavirus that are also long time hotspots for worst air pollution.

This sounds alarm bells for South Asian countries such as Pakistan, India and Bangladesh that might be in for prolonged trouble, because even though skies might have been bluer and air cleaner in the past few months because of lockdowns and slower industrial activity as well as mobility, these countries have sustained staggeringly poor air quality for years, which could be a breeding ground for worst COVID experience. Why? Because air pollution has already compromised the immunity of the general population, which makes them more susceptible to the virus. Many already exhibit co-morbidities caused by extreme exposure to air pollutants PM 2.5, nitrogen dioxide, and sulphur dioxide.

These qualms echo some key research findings earlier in April 2020. According to research led by Xiao Wu and Rachel Nethery at the Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, an increase in PM2.5 particulate matter of just 1 microgram per cubic metre corresponded to a 15 percent increase in Covid-19 deaths. Preliminary researches have also shown mortality rate to be higher in the most polluted regions e.g. northern Italy and New York. What’s more, various researches - though preliminary - suggest that air pollution may also help in the transmission of the virus.

Three South Asia countries - Pakistan, India and Bangladesh - are home to 23 percent of the world population, representing 8.3 percent of the total reported COVID-19 cases and 4.2 percent for the total deaths from the virus as of June 25, 2020. Cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Karachi, Lahore, Dhaka are not only densely populated urban centers but also have high number of COVID cases and air quality that exceeds thresholds through most of the year. That’s a deadly combo. If these theories and estimates are correct, a second or third wave of the virus could be expected in early winters, which could be more lethal when air pollution reaches astounding levels.