Latest world news for October 16

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Smog at Anand Vihar on October 14, in New Delhi, India.
Smog at Anand Vihar on October 14, in New Delhi, India. Mohd Zakir/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

India’s capital New Delhi is bracing for the annual pollution season to begin.

As fall ends and the temperature begins to slowly drop, the pollution across North India rapidly starts to rise every year.

For the past few years, winter has seen New Delhi enveloped in a thick smog that pours in from burning crop fields, factories chugging out toxins, and smoke from firecrackers set off in anticipation of India’s annual festival of Diwali.

The city has been ranked the most polluted in the world, and the air quality last year reached levels more than 20 times World Health Organization (WHO) “safe” guidelines. Last year, authorities also declared a public health emergency for the city.

When the air quality worsens the smog becomes visible and the thick haze irritates eyes and throats, an ashy taste is constantly on your lips.

Those suffering from asthma and other respiratory illnesses often report complications.

Double health threat: This year, the unease in breathing is exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

For months, we have been sequestered in our homes and venture out reluctantly with a palpable fear of testing positive and having to battle with a broken healthcare system.

India reported 63,371 new Covid-19 cases and 895 deaths on Friday, with the nationwide number of infections more than 7.3 million — the second most cases globally behind the United States.

With hospital beds already in short supply and consultations with doctors largely limited to video calls, someone suffering from breathing issues due to pollution may have nowhere to turn to now.

Like clockwork, every year in October I clean my air purifier and begin shuttering the doors and windows in my home to keep out the pollution. It’s an action which will restrict the little fresh air I am able to breathe during a self-imposed lockdown.

But for thousands of people who have existing respiratory illnesses, Covid-19 has come with an extra layer of fear that their lungs may not survive both — the air pollution and the damage the disease brings with it.

Survival mode: As authorities across multiple states scramble to reduce the smoke, we settle into a pattern of survival until the first rain at the end of the winter season clears the skies and we take off the masks that were protecting us from the pollution.

This time it will be different. We were wearing masks before the pollution season began and will continue to do so long after it’s over.

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