Health experts urge people to restrain firecrackers this Diwali

Considering the potentially harmful consequences of burning firecrackers amid the COVID-19 pandemic situation and approaching winter, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) Maharashtra and the state health experts have urged citizens to reduce firecracker activity during Diwali to avoid a deadly mix of high air pollution levels, low temperatures and coronavirus, which affects the respiratory tract. However, the state COVID-19 task force members and health experts said citizens need to follow basic protocols to avoid the second wave.

Dr Avinash Bhondwe, president, IMA-Maharashtra, said the combination of colder weather and high pollution level could leave people with breathing problems particularly vulnerable to serious symptoms. “Ten days of Diwali will be very crucial for the state and patients with severe upper respiratory tract infections and the recovered COVID-19 patients as firecrackers will lead to the pollution which will affect the lungs of serious patients. So it’s an appeal to the citizens to avoid using firecrackers or use very less of them this Diwali,” he said.

Dr Lancelot Pinto, Consultant Pulmonologist, PD Hinduja Hospital & MRC, said ecological studies have suggested that there may be a link between increasing pollution levels and deaths due to COVID-19, and there is biological plausibility to this, considering air pollution has been linked to worsening of respiratory and cardiac conditions. “Bans are often not appreciated, but strong social messaging might help people self-regulate their use of firecrackers in the interests of their own, and the community’s health,” he said.

Dr Subhash Salunke, advisor to the state on COVID-19 control, said they have recommended a reduction in firecracker use during Diwali this year as part of the 10-point programme on avoiding a possible second wave. Cold temperatures, pollution caused by firecrackers and coronavirus could be a deadly combination.

“Too much pollution and steep temperature drop make individuals prone to viral infections. Also, allergies and asthma-like conditions are exacerbated by both cooler weather and pollution. Any factor that adds to pollution levels, such as firecrackers and garbage burning, needs to be immediately tackled because a pandemic is on,” he said.

Moreover, a combination of factors, such as pollutant particle size in an environment that is cold and smoky, could be particularly problematic for a group of individuals.

“Viruses like H1N1 seem to thrive in this type of environment. This is the first winter with COVID-19, so we’ll soon know how this virus behaves in the coming days. Nevertheless, it is strongly advised that people be more careful in the type of cold and polluted air we usually see during Diwali,” said Dr Om Srivastava, an infectious diseases specialist and a member of the state's COVID-19 task force.

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