Hindu festival worsens Indian capital's air pollution woes; Covid-19 cases goes above 7.91 million


Effigies of mythological demon king Ravana and his kins are burned during Dussehra festival celebrations toned down due to the coronavirus pandemic in New Delhi. The Hindu festival season is traditionally laced with an unmatched fanfare and extravaganza, with socialising being the hallmark of the celebration. But this year's festivities have been scaled down. The celebrations, bereft of all the grandiose, have been muted. - AP

NEW DELHI, Oct 26 (Reuters): New Delhi's appalling air quality turned a lot worse over the weekend as Hindus in India's capital burned effigies of the mythological demon king Ravana and lit firecrackers to celebrate the triumph of good over evil during the Dussehra festival.

As pollution spiked on Monday morning, India Gate - a monument near the Prime Minister Narendra Modi's office - was blanketed in smog, and the mega-city's 20 million people breathed in "very poor" air, even "hazardous" in some places.

US President Donald Trump cited India for its "filthy" air during the final presidential debate last week, prompting Democratic rival Joe Biden to tweet: "It's not how you talk about friends - and it's not how you solve global challenges like climate change."

But, for all the angst displayed on social media by some Indians over Trump's comment, the country's own pollution watchdog delivered the inescapable truth with another dreadful daily reading.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board's air quality index (AQI) any reading above 100 on the scale of 500 becomes progressively unsafe for health.

On Monday afternoon in the capital the AQI struck 347, while for some areas like Sonia Vihar it was as high as 439, well into the hazardous zone.

People taking selfies as effigies of mythological demon king Ravana and his kins are burned during Dussehra festival celebrations toned down due to the coronavirus pandemic in New Delhi, India, on Sunday (Oct 25, 2020). - APPeople taking selfies as effigies of mythological demon king Ravana and his kins are burned during Dussehra festival celebrations toned down due to the coronavirus pandemic in New Delhi, India, on Sunday (Oct 25, 2020). - AP

Doctors have already noted a jump in respiratory problems among residents in the capital, where over 353,000 of India's 7.9 million coronavirus cases have been reported.

So far this month, Delhi's AQI has averaged a "poor" 227, as residents paid a price for farmers in surrounding states burning off stubble before planting a new crop.

While the climax of the Dussehra festival on Sunday was harmful enough for people's lungs, environmentalists have warned that Diwali in mid-November could be a lot worse, as people light many more firecrackers for the festival of lights.

Next month, farmers would typically still be burning stubble in some states, and low winds would let the smog settle over the capital.

Authorities have launched a campaign urging people to take steps to control pollution while ordering sprinkling of water and banning the use of electricity generator sets.

Meanwhile, India’s total coronavirus infections stood above 7.91 million on Monday, having risen by 45,148 cases in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed.

The world’s second-most populous country also has the second-highest number of infections after the United States, which has around 8.1 million.

However, India recorded its lowest death toll in about four months on Monday with 480 deaths reported in the last 24 hours, taking total fatalities to 119,014.

Last month, the country hit a peak of nearly 100,000 cases in a single day, but since then daily infections have fallen by about half and deaths by about a third.

This is also the first time in nearly four months when new cases per day have fallen below 50,000-mark and deaths per day below 500 in the country.

There are 653,717 active Covid-19 cases in the country. In all 7,137,228 people have been successfully cured.

This is the fourth consecutive day when the number of active cases has been below the 700,000-mark in the country. - Reuters
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