Hyderabad: Every year, around this time, there are heated discussions on the topic of banning firecrackers. Those in favour of banning them offer reasons like worsening air and sound pollution, risks of fire accidents, safety of animals etc. Those in favour of firecrackers support bursting them citing cultural traditions, freedom of expression, jobs to people in manufacturing and sale of firecrackers etc. Up until this year, all these discussions continued to generate a lot of sound (like the firecrackers themselves) but threw no light on the matter. It finally took a microscopic virus – the COVID-19 - to get the authorities to take a stand on banning firecrackers. As of date, Rajasthan, New Delhi, Sikkim, Odisha, West Bengal and Karnataka have banned the bursting of firecrackers with Diwali around the corner.

Apart from the standard risks that firecrackers pose, COVID-19 adds a new dimension. As COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, the lungs receive most damage. Lung fibrosis (or scarring) is seen in Coronavirus patients. This scarring can occur when the virus is active in the lungs and can also persist for months after recovery. Symptoms of scarred lungs include breathlessness at rest or on exertion, cough, chest pain, weakness, fatigue and lethargy. Firecrackers generate a lot of smoke, which when inhaled, can further damage lungs. The smoke induces cough which can result in increasing the spread of the virus from infected persons. Though masks provide partial protection, they are by no means an ideal way to protect the lungs from air pollution.

There is also the risk involved in social activities. Permitting people to celebrate by bursting crackers in groups will violate the three basic methods of COVID protection – S.M.S (social distancing, mask and sanitisation). Social distancing norms will be broken as people tend to burst firecrackers in groups; no one does it alone. Masks may lie discarded during celebrations as people will find it difficult to breathe smoky air with the masks on. Sanitisation norms will be violated as firecrackers are lit in open areas where there will be no access to soap and water for hand washing. Sanitisers contain alcohol, hence are extremely inflammable and should not be used near fire.

It is an excellent decision by the state governments to ban firecrackers during these COVID times. Hopefully, all other state governments will follow suit.

Dr Ravi Andrews

Dr Ravi Andrews is a Senior Nephrologist at Apollo Hospital, Hyderabad.

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