NEW DELHI: Top doctors have warned elite runners by taking a major health risk by competing in the New Delhi Half Marathon on Sunday (Nov. 29) amid a major outbreak of coronavirus and air pollution.
Brigid Kosgei, world record holder for the women’s marathon from Kenya, and Andamlak Belihu, the two-time men’s winner in Ethiopia, are among the 49 top athletes to run the 21km race, while thousands of amateurs compete virtually.
Organizers say the “highest level of safety standards, with bio-secure areas” has been set for the race that starts at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
But with New Delhi recording more than 500,000 COVID-19 cases and air quality in the world’s most polluted capital fluctuating between “unhealthy” and “dangerous,” health experts said the athletes had to think twice.
“It will be suicidal for runners to run the race this time. We have such high pollution levels, we are at risk for coronavirus,” Arvind Kumar, founder of the Lung Care Foundation, told AFP.
“With the presence of this double threat, if people are still running despite knowing everything, well I don’t have the words to express my fear.
“Whether you are an elite international runner or a small boy from a village, the harmful potential of a noxious agent remains the same,” said the doctor.
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Randeep Guleria, director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the country’s main research body, told AFP that “in an ideal situation” the race should not be held.
“Because of the high level of air pollution, exercising outdoors in this weather can sometimes worsen underlying lung problems,” he said.
“Even if you are an elite rider, the air pollution would still affect your lungs.”
Normally, thousands of amateurs would also participate, but due to the corona virus, they have been instructed to walk their chosen route between Wednesday and Sunday and to chart their time on an app.
Delhi has been hit by a winter pollution crisis every year for the past decade, when the burning of crop stubble from nearby states, cold temperatures, and auto and industrial pollution produce a toxic mix.
This year, the Indian capital is also a major concern in the fight against the corona virus. India is the second most affected country in the world, after the United States, with about 9.3 million cases.
According to media reports, the city is considering imposing a curfew due to the rising number of cases.
Visiting India for the first time, Kosgei acknowledged her concerns about traveling for the race.
“We have certainly been affected by COVID-19. I had to convince my parents and family at home to allow me to visit Delhi for the half marathon,” she said.
“The virus has affected most sporting events. But it’s important that we take care of ourselves.”
As in other countries, almost all sports in India has been canceled.
After repeated delays, Indian Premier League cricket has continued in the United Arab Emirates and Indian Super League football is being held in a bio-safe “bubble” in Goa.
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