LAHORE: A thick layer of smog flooded Pakistan’s cultural capital, Lahore, on Wednesday, prompting officials to warn that tens of thousands of city residents are at risk for respiratory and eye disease. while doctors urged people to stay at home.
Air quality in Lahore has deteriorated to dangerous levels, adding an extra burden to the vulnerable healthcare system amid an increase in coronavirus deaths and new infections. The air quality index once rose to 750 in the poorest parts of the city, about 12 times the recommended level.
Hours earlier, Switzerland-based air quality information platform IQair named Lahore the second most polluted city after New Delhi, the capital of India. Pollution rates are highest in Pakistan in winter, when farmers burn stubble in the fields. Winds exacerbate pollution by spreading the smog further across the region.
“The air quality level was dangerous today,” said Sajid Bashir, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection.
By noon, the situation had improved, he said, when authorities took measures to keep smoke-emitting vehicles off the roads and shut down brick kilns across the province of Punjab, where Lahore is the provincial capital.
Lahore, once called the City of Gardens, remained pollution-free for months after March, when the government imposed a lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus. But the restriction was lifted in May, allowing normal business and industrial activities to resume. With cars on the road again, the air quality gradually deteriorated and dropped back to an unhealthy level.
Pollution is no stranger to Pakistan, a country with a population of 220 million, or Lahore with about 12 million people. Cars are the main polluters in Lahore, but the city also has other sources of pollution such as stubble, steel kilns and the city’s famous brick kilns.
“Coughing, laryngitis and eye irritation are common,” said Anza Farid, an environmentalist, who warns that the situation could worsen in the coming weeks as more people burn waste in cities and burn farmers. the stubble in their fields.
Dr. Talha Ayub urged people to wear face masks to protect themselves from both contamination and the coronavirus. “People should try to stay home when they can,” he pleaded.
Pakistan said Wednesday that it has recorded 21 new deaths from COVID-19 and 1,708 new infections in the past 24 hours, despite partial government-imposed closures in 4,136 residential areas across the country. The government is resorting to shutting down hotspots to stem the rise in deaths and infections from the coronavirus.
Authorities have also banned large gatherings, closed shrines, cinemas and theaters to stem the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 348,000 people and killed 7,021 people since February.