Stubble burning by farmers in Punjab and Haryana may have contributed to the spike in Covid-19 cases in Delhi between October and November, a new study suggests. SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, could have ‘piggybacked’ on Black Carbon, a major constituent of soot from stubble burning, leading to the spike in winter.
The researchers from Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) in Pune discovered that the pollutant concentration in the air corresponded directly with the speed of the spread of Covid-19 during winter after the stubble-burning period.
“We hypothesise that the third Covid peak in Delhi was linked to the increase in pollution levels due to stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana,” one of the authors of the study told ThePrint. According to the study, Covid-19 aerosols get attached to ‘aged’ black carbon particles. ‘Ageing’ in this context refers to the fact the black carbon particles grow in size and combine with other molecules after its generation.
When these particles are inhaled, the viral load delivered is greater and the duration for which it stays deep in the respiratory system is longer. The soot causes inflammation in the lungs as well, thus, posing a ‘double whammy’ for the respiratory system.
While the study discovered that the rise and fall of Covid-19 cases coincided with concentration of pollutants in one of the waves in Delhi, the researchers did not conduct any experiment to confirm their hypothesis. The infectivity of the virus in black-carbon rich environment has not been studied clinically. Thus, further research is warranted in the area.
It has long been suspected that stubble-burning would adversely impact the Covid-19 pandemic due to the increase in air pollution. However, Punjab, one of the major contributors, has failed to take measures to curb the practice.