The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that we take breathing for granted and that we undervalue our ability to go outside and breathe fresh air. COVID-19 threatens the functions of the respiratory system and has left patients reliant on respirators for oxygen. Long COVID patients continue to struggle to breathe even after having recovered from the virus itself. COVID-19 caused lockdowns which, at their strictest, instructed people not to leave their homes more than once a day and only if absolutely necessary. This has itself been a restriction on people’s ability to go outside and breathe fresh air.
For most healthy people, the COVID-19 pandemic will have been the first serious threat to their day-to-day ability to breathe and to breathe fresh clean air. I think we should take the opportunity presented by the COVID-19 pandemic to recognise how much we value these abilities and to act against another threat to our ability to breathe: air pollution.
Air pollution “is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK” according to Health Matters: Air Pollution on gov.uk. Air pollution has been linked to heart disease, strokes, lung cancer, reduced life expectancy, asthma, diabetes, dementia, development problems in children, and more. Air pollution is responsible for a health cost between £8.5billion-£20billion a year according to The Environmental Audit Committee. The impact of air pollution is greater on some groups than others including older people, children, low-income communities; notably all groups that have been heavily impacted by COVID. Air pollution also heavily impacts people with respiratory diseases which will now include people effected by COVID.
COVID-19 presents us with the opportunity to realise the value of our ability to breathe and to take steps to mitigate the threat air pollution poses to it before it too becomes a global health catastrophe.