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COVID-19 AND ENVIRONMENT
5/31/2020 11:19:04 PM
Dr Annu Kotwal and Dr Sanjay Kotwal

The COVID-19 pandemic is a disease caused by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus-2 (SARS-CoV2). It was first reported from Wuhan, China in December, 2019 from where it spread to other parts of the world. Today COVID-19 has affected 216 countries and its impact is getting stronger with every passing day. Considering the global outbreak of this virus, World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a Pandemic (Infection with Global implication) on 11, March 2020. Origin of this deadly virus is still a mystery for the world though many countries have blamed China for its outbreak. If Chinese link is established then CoV-2 would be the fifth in the series of viruses which originated from land of China.
COVID-19 has threatened the very survival of the mankind. Surprisingly unlike other pandemics in history, the COVID-19 has not been discriminatory. It has affected equally rich as well as poor. The bigger economies like USA, Russia, Italy, France, Spain, United Kingdom, China, Iran, Brazil and India have been affected severely by COVID-19. According to World Health Organisation (WHO) report of 31st May, 2020 globally 61,59, 931 corona cases have been recorded of which 27,37,663 have recovered while 3, 71,023 have lost their lives due to COVID-19. According to Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) report, 31th May, 2020, India has over 1,82, 142 corona positive cases which include 89,995 active cases, 86,983 recovered cases and 5164 causalities due to COVID-19. The specificity of this virus towards humans only is an alarm bell for whole humanity. This is just a beginning and worst might be waiting for us.
Environment is defined as the complex of Physical, Chemical and Biotic factors affecting an organism which ultimately determine its form and survival. So plants, animal, micro-organisms and physico-chemical parameters have their own significance in environment. Unfortunately man has always overlooked the importance of environment. The root cause of all problems on earth is the mirage of superiority developed by man over environment. Biologically man is just one of the 1.3 million species inhabiting this biosphere. With his superior cranial capacity man mastered the living world and started unregulated exploitation of its resources. This resulted in destruction of natural ecosystems and invitation to natural disasters. Man fiddled with nature, cleared forests, destroyed mountains and exhausted the resources just to fulfil his ever increasing selfish needs with no consideration for other species. The irresponsible behaviour of man towards nature has gradually started challenging his own survival.
Man always undermines the fact that his survival is directly linked to the healthy environment. Turning a blind eye towards the significance of environment has started showing its repercussions. The Mother Nature has on number of occasions expressed her anger in the form of cyclones, droughts, floods, earthquake, tsunami, epidemics and pandemics. Recently the devastation caused by Ampan supercyclone in Indian coastal states, Orissa and West Bengal, on 20 May 2020 proves the dwarfness of man before nature. COVID-19 is just one such challenge which has targeted drastically the human populations.
Globally scientists are working tirelessly to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 but till date there is no positive report. Though reports of human trials have appeared from some quarters still for an effective treatment we have to wait for at least 8-10 months. Doubts have also been raised about the effectiveness of a specific vaccine against this fast mutating virus. So today in the context of COVID-19 we can say that “Prevention is the Only Cure”.
After failing in their strategies to counter and contain this invisible enemy the governments all over the globe resorted to lockdown. At present Lockdown is the easiest and the most viable strategy to break the chain of transmission of COVID-19 and at the same time give the much needed time to find ways of containment of this virus. Today COVID-19 has halted industries, transport, agriculture, educational institutions, offices, business establishments, hotels and restaurants. Cities and roads have become free of humans. This might be first time in the history that humans have been arrested in their habitations for almost 3-4 months.
In the Indian context on the directions of our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi whole country observed “Janata Curfew” on 22th March, 2020. In his address to the nation Modi ji said “People should not step out of their houses except for those working in essential services like healthcare, sanitation, security and media.” He also advised to express gratitude to corona warriors and practise social distancing. Subsequently whole country entered the four phases of national lockdown (Lockdown 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 and 4.0) from 25th March 2020 to 31st May 2020.
The COVID-19 lockdown applied brakes on all sort of economic activities like travelling, transport, Industrial manufacturing, tourism, construction, mining and fishing. The lockdown has ruined global economies and produced many new challenges like recession, hunger, unemployment, depreciation and crashing markets. However for Environment the COVID-19 has proved to be a blessing in disguise. It might have ruined the global economies but inadvertently it has rejuvenated the environment and natural ecosystems and restored its virginity to a great extent. It has given a new lease of hope and enthusiasm to the environment, ecosystems, flora and fauna. Studies conducted in different parts of the world have come up with many encouraging finding in the context of environment.
Decline in Green House Emissions and Particulate Matter: Global economy might have incurred loss of trillions of dollars but from the environment point of view this economic halt has proved a boon for atmosphere. Climatologists all over world have recorded biggest ever drop in emission of Green House Gases and Particulate Matter since the Second World War era. There is an appreciable improvement in the Air quality and visibility indices. In china according to study the air quality improvements generated human benefits that have outnumbered the deaths and damages due to Covid-19 (Chen et al., 2020). In China, lockdown resulted in reduction of Nitrous oxide (NO2) emissions from 22.8μg/m3 to12.9 μg/m3 while Particulate matter reduced 18.9μg/m3. High concentration of green house gases and particulate matter pose great threat to existence of life in world (Sharma and Dhar, 2018). According to the Central Pollution Control Board on 15th May, 2020 air quality index level of Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Kolkata were 123, 50, 52 and 37 respectively. Satellite images have also proved the improvement in air quality standards in the highly polluted cities like Wuhan, Delhi, California.
Ozone Healing: Ozone layer is a shield that protects the earth from harmful Ultra-violet radiations from sun which can cause various skin related diseases in living organisms. The anthropogenic activities have been continuously damaging this vital life supporting shield for last 150 years. Anthropogenic activities have resulted in massive ozone holes in the Polar Regions. However amid COVID-19 lockdown, on 23rd April, 2020, positive news came from Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, the European Union’s Earth Monitoring programme, according to which the largest Arctic hole has closed. Healing of ozone has been linked to the decline in the production of Chloro-Fluoro-Carbons (CFCs) and other ozone depleting substances due to closure of Industries, Refineries and Transport.
Reduction in Environmental Noise: Noise is the unwanted sound generated by anthropogenic activities like vehicles, planes, blasts, Industrial and commercial activities. Continuous exposure to noise can cause various diseases. However the lockdown enforced by COVID-19 has halted all the sources of noise and thus brought noise pollution to the minimal level. It is after long that we can enjoy singing and chirping of birds, sound of rain fall and sound of wind.
Freedom to Wild Animals: The regulated movement of humans due to COVID-19 lockdown checked deforestation, poaching and destruction of wild habitats. With house arrest of humans the wild animal could experience a feeling of freedom. Wild animals could be seen freely venturing on road in different cities across the world. Decline in demand due to lockdown of hotels and restaurants has given a sigh of relief to the aquatic animals like fishes, prawns, crabs and other sea food animals. Many wild animals which could have lost their lives because of species terrorism have been blessed with longevity on this planet by COVID-19.
Cleansing of Water bodies: With brakes on anthropogenic activities (Tourism, Industries, Factories, Refineries etc), aquatic ecosystems renewed themselves and the water quality improved to a great extent. Two important rivers systems The Ganges and The Yamuna recorded significant improvement of water quality indices. The reappearance of endangered Dophins at Kolkata ghats after 30 years is the indicator of declined pollution in these river basins. A battle where many governments failed but COVID19 won it easily and efficiently. So Covid19 can be credited for cleaning Ganga, Yamuna, Banganga etc. In absence of tourists the sea beaches have been relieved of debris and appeared clearer.
Conclusion: COVID19 pandemic may be regarded as the biggest threat to human life on this planet. But this pandemic has given a very significant message of “Life in harmony with Nature”. We have to mend ourselves and keep a “Balance between our Greeds and Needs”. We have to respect the Mother Nature and Environment. We have to rethink on our priorities. This simple DNA complement grounded all our claims of power and strength. We don’t need Nuclear Bombs or deadly missiles but health infrastructure. We have to follow the principle of sustainable development.
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