Pre-to-post lockdown impact on air quality and the role of environmental factors in spreading the COVID-19 cases - a study from a worst-hit state of India.Int J Biometeorol. 2021 Feb; 65(2):205-222.IJ
The present study aims to examine the changes in air quality during different phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the lockdown (LD1-4) and unlock period (UL1-2) (post-lockdown) as compared to pre-lockdown (PL1-3) and to establish the relationships of the environmental and demographic variables with COVID-19 cases in the state of Maharashtra, the worst-hit state in India. Atmospheric pollutants such as PM2.5, PM10, NOx, and CO were substantially reduced during the lockdown and unlock phases with the greatest reduction in cities having larger traffic volumes. Compared with the immediate pre-lockdown period (PL3), the averaged PM2.5 and PM10 reduced by up to 51% and 47% respectively during the lockdown periods, which resulted in 'satisfactory' level of air quality index (AQI) as a result of reduced vehicular traffic and industrial closing. These parameters continued to reduce as much as 80% during the unlock periods due to the additive impact of weather (rainfall and temperature) combined with the lockdown conditions. Kendall's correlation matrix showed a significant negative correlation between temperature and air pollutants (r= - 0.35 to - 057). Conversely, SO2 and O3 did not improve, and in some cases, they increased during the lockdown and unlocking. COVID-19 spreading incidences were strongly and positively correlated with temperature (r < 0.62) and dew point (r < 0.73). Thus, this indicates that the increase in temperature and dew point cannot weaken the transmission of this virus. The number of COVID-19 cases relative to air pollutants was negatively correlated (r = - 0.33 to - 0.74), which may be a mere coincidence as a result of lockdown. However, based on pre-lockdown air quality data and demographic factors, it was found that particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) and population density are closely linked with higher morbidity and mortality although a more in-depth research is required in this direction to validate this finding. The onset of COVID-19 has allowed us to determine that 'immediate' changes in air quality within densely populated/industrialized areas can improve livelihood based on pollution mitigation. These findings could be used by policymakers to set new benchmarks for air pollution that would improve the quality of life for major sectors of the World's population. COVID-19 has shown us that we can make changes when necessary, and findings may pave the way for future research to inform policy on the tough choices we will have to make between quality of life and survival. Also, our results will enrich the ongoing discussion on the role of environmental factors on the transmission of COVID-19 and will help to take necessary steps for its control.