Coronavirus, or COVID-2019 as it's properly known, continues to spread alarmingly, with over 2,900 deaths in China alone, and confirmed cases now having crossed 90,000 globally. As scientists work to develop a vaccine, healthcare workers face a tremendous risk of exposure to the virus, in hospitals especially. A Swiss company, IQAir, is one of the firms whose technology is being used to try and limit the spread of COVID-2019, with its air purifiers being put to use in hospitals treating coronavirus patients. IQAir earlier gained prominence in 2002 when the Hong Kong Hospital Authority (HKHA) had deployed its air purifiers in facilities treating SARS victims. Now, IQAir is sending emergency shipments to Wuhan, Hong Kong, and cities in South Korea, the company's CEO Jens Hammes told Gadgets 360.
Hammes was in New Delhi where he, along with Barun Aggarwal, CEO of IQAir's Indian marketing partner Breathe Easy, met Gadgets 360, and shared their views about the spread of coronavirus, the scenario in India, and what people can be doing to ensure their safety. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that COVID-19 spreads through droplets from coughing or sneezing, and Hammes explained that IQAir's purifiers can help reduce the risk this poses through a custom apparatus that creates a low-pressure condition to pull in more air.
“The special design which we see here, there is a suction that is attached to the IQAir,” said Hammes. "And that design was actually created in co-operation with the Hong Kong hospital authority. They wanted especially that design to contain the coronavirus in patient rooms. So that was their initial idea, we then translated that into a design that was functional and effective.”
“If the Novel Coronavirus is in the air, or if a person sneezes directly into the inlet of the air purifier, the air coming out of the air purifier will be Novel Coronavirus-free. That much is a certain guarantee. And that is why the product that has been developed for the hospital, if you look at this, you see how this is set up. There is a capture hood, and it is placed right near the patient's mouth,” Aggarwal added. "When the patient is coughing when the unit is on, this (IQAir purifier) is creating suction. So, all the droplets from the cough are getting sucked in over here, and getting cleared by the filters in the machine. It is then thrown back into the room so that anybody else, the health care workers, who are in that isolation room do not get infected or impacted.”
IQAir's air purifiers start at Rs. 1,20,000 in India, which is over ten times more than Xiaomi's value-for-money air purifiers, and even luxury brands like Dyson cost only half as much. But Hammes pointed out that these machines — which are typically purchased by institutions and not individuals — offer greater longevity and efficiency than a typical consumer product. He also added that the IQAir purifiers can filter particles down to 0.003 micron in size, compared to the 0.3 microns listed for the Mi Air Purifier. Coronavirus particles have been measured to be between 0.06 and 0.14 microns.
Both men however stressed that while coronavirus is a major risk and every country needs to take measures to prevent it from spreading, India has a big problem. Air pollution in India is killing more people than coronavirus, they noted, and said that as per IQAir's 2019 World Air Quality Report, 21 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world are located here. The WHO has set an annual mean exposure threshold of 10 micrograms per cubic metre of PM 2.5 (particles up to 2.5 micron size). For India, that exposure figure stands at 98.6 micrograms per cubic metre, which falls in the “unhealthy” AQI range of 151-200. In fact, no Indian city meets the WHO threshold of minimal PM 2.5 exposure.
Hammes pointed out that worldwide air pollution accounts for 43 percent of all deaths and diseases from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 29 percent of all deaths from lung cancer, and 17 percent of all deaths caused by respiratory infections. Apart from that, the reduced life expectancy and medical expenses also create a huge financial burden, and he warned that the situation in India needs to be addressed by the people and the government urgently.
“I've always said that the cost of not doing anything to fix your air pollution is much higher than the actual cost of fixing the problem,” Breathe Easy's Aggarwal added. "If you run the economics around the country of India and the population of India, what are the health impacts? What is the life expectancy that is being reduced because of air pollution, and what are all the numbers associated with that in terms of direct and indirect tax that are going to get robbed of from those six years of reduced life expectancy?”
Hammes also added that while the Indian government has been taking steps to control air pollution in the country, after observing the landscape of the country he believes that there is need for much greater awareness of the health risks that the public faces from the poisonous air they breathe. Without this awareness, he explained, large scale reform will not get initiated, and the problem will not get any better.