London pollution: The worse the air you breathe, the worse your Covid symptoms
Exposure to air pollution increases the risk of more severe coronavirus symptoms and hospitalisation with the disease, according to a new report by Imperial College London researchers.
In a review of the latest evidence available, the researchers found a strong link between a person’s exposure to air pollution before the pandemic and the worst cases of Covid.
According to the new research, breathing in polluted air may also increase the likelihood of catching Covid in the first place when exposed to the virus.
This is due to certain pollutants that, once inhaled, increase the amount of the protein that allows Covid to attach to the lungs. These latter findings, however, came from studies on animals, as human population studies were inconclusive.
The new research builds on pre-existing evidence that exposure to air pollution increases a person’s susceptibility to other infectious lung diseases, such as pneumonia and bronchitis. Likewise, poor air quality can also worsen the symptoms of these diseases.
Highlighting the socioeconomic factors at play when it comes to air pollution in the UK capital, the report said: “Both air pollution and Covid-19 compound existing inequalities in society.”
Citing previous studies, the researchers highlighted that low income Londoners are most likely to be exposed to the worst air pollution in the capital, and the least likely to own a car.
The research also cautioned that those who living in areas with the highest levels of pollution are disproportionately from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities – the very same groups who are disproportionately affected by the worst of Covid.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who commissioned the report, said: “This new review led by Imperial researchers makes it crystal clear that tackling air pollution is a vital part of building our resilience to Covid-19, and other infections like it.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to the clear evidence showing the dangers of toxic air pollution.”
It comes a month before the mayor expands London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone, which first launched in the centre of the city in April 2019, to areas of the North Circular and South Circular roads.
In an effort to improve the capital’s air quality, the larger zone is estimated to be 18 times the size of the original area and expected to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels by around 30 per cent.
It comes after separate City Hall analysis a couple of weeks ago that showed almost every London school is in an area where air pollution levels exceed World Health Organisation limits.
According to the 2016- 2020 report, the average concentration of particulate matter was a third higher at schools in London than in the rest of England.
Prof. Ally Lewis, Chair of the Government’s Air Quality Expert Group, said: “Air quality certainly isn’t the only factor that raises the risk of a poor outcome from Covid-19 but it is something we can take collective action on now through reducing our emissions.”