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The world has witnessed a colossal death toll due to the novel coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19). A few environmental epidemiology studies have identified association of environmental factors (air pollution, greenness, temperature, etc.) with COVID-19 incidence and mortality, particularly in developed countries. India, being one of the most severely affected countries by the pandemic, still has a dearth of research exploring the linkages of environment and COVID-19 pandemic.
We evaluate whether district-level greenness exposure is associated with a reduced risk of COVID-19 deaths in India.
We used average normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) from January to March 2019, derived by Oceansat-2 satellite, to represent district-level greenness exposure. COVID-19 death counts were obtained through May 1, 2021 (around the peak of the second wave) from an open portal: covid19india.org. We used hierarchical generalized negative binomial regressions to check the associations of greenness with COVID-19 death counts. Analyses were adjusted for air pollution (PM2.5), temperature, rainfall, population density, proportion of older adults (50 years and above), sex ratio over age 50, proportions of rural population, household overcrowding, materially deprived households, health facilities, and secondary school education.
Our analyses found a significant association between greenness and reduced risk of COVID-19 deaths. Compared to the districts with the lowest NDVI (quintile 1), districts within quintiles 3, 4, and 5 have respectively, around 32% [MRR = 0.68 (95% CI: 0.51, 0.88)], 39% [MRR = 0.61 (95% CI: 0.46, 0.80)], and 47% [MRR = 0.53 (95% CI: 0.40, 0.71)] reduced risk of COVID-19 deaths. The association remains consistent for analyses restricted to districts with a rather good overall death registration (>80%).
Though cause-of-death statistics are limited, we confirm that exposure to greenness was associated with reduced district-level COVID-19 deaths in India. However, material deprivation and air pollution modify this association.