New Delhi's iconic India Gate is shrouded in smog on Oct. 24, 2020. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Air pollution has worsened in India's capital New Delhi and environs, with 10 out of 35 monitoring stations recording the air quality index in the "severe" zone, the highest of six stages, on Friday, according to the local media.

Government agencies have forecast that the air quality will further worsen in the next two days, with pollutants PM10 and PM2.5 increasing, the Press Trust of India reported Saturday, for which comparative figures were not immediately available.

Residents of Delhi, of which New Delhi is a part, were able to breathe clean air earlier this year after the government imposed a stringent nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, resulting in decreased road traffic and construction activities.

Besides vehicular and industrial pollution, the air quality of Delhi typically worsens in the winter when farmers in the neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana burn crop stubble to clear fields.

Health experts have cautioned that higher pollution levels in winter season may worsen the impact of COVID-19, since particulate matter remains suspended in the air for a longer duration.

They note that decreases in exposure to fine particle air pollution have been linked to decreases in confirmed COVID-19 cases and decreases in mortality, suggesting the reverse may also be true.

Secondly, air pollution can lead to inflammation of the respiratory tract which could predispose people to other infections including the novel coronavirus.

The experts are calling for the wearing of masks while going out.

As of Saturday, India's coronavirus cases have exceeded 7.8 million, the second highest count globally following the United States, with 117,956 deaths.

A student volunteer (L) holds a sign asking drivers to turn off their vehicle engines while waiting at traffic signals in New Delhi, India, on Oct. 24, 2020, amid worsening air pollution. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

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