Exposure to air pollution increases the risk of more severe coronavirus symptoms and hospitalization with the disease, according to a new report from researchers at Imperial College London.
In a review of the latest available evidence, researchers found a strong link between a person’s exposure to air pollution before the pandemic and worst cases of Covid.
Breathing polluted air can also increase the likelihood of catching Covid in the first place when exposed to the virus, according to the new research.
This is due to certain pollutants which, when inhaled, increase the amount of protein that allows Covid to attach to the lungs. These latest findings, however, came from animal studies, 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 socio-economic factors at play in air pollution in the UK capital, the report said: “Air pollution and Covid-19 are exacerbating existing inequalities in society.”
Citing previous studies, the researchers pointed out that low-income Londoners are the most likely to be exposed to the capital’s worst air pollution and the least likely to own a car.
The research also warned that those living in the most polluted areas are disproportionately from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities – the same groups who are disproportionately affected by the worst of Covid.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who commissioned the report, said: “This new study by researchers at Imperial makes it clear that tackling air pollution is a critical part of building our resilience to Covid -19 and other similar infections.
“We cannot ignore the clear evidence showing the dangers of toxic air pollution. “
It comes a month before the mayor is expanding the London Ultra Low Emission Zone, which was first launched in the city center in April 2019, to the North Circular and South Circular Road areas.
In an effort to improve the capital’s air quality, the larger area is estimated to be 18 times the size of the original area and is expected to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels by around 30%.
It comes after a separate city hall analysis a few weeks ago which showed almost all schools in London are in an area where air pollution levels exceed World Health Organization limits.
According to the 2016-2020 report, the average particle concentration was a third higher in schools in London than in the rest of England.
Professor Ally Lewis, Chairman of the Government’s Air Quality Panel, said: ‘Air quality is definitely not the only factor that increases the risk of a poor Covid outcome -19, but it’s something we can take collective action on now through reducing our emissions.