Various international studies suggest that there are more coronavirus infections and more severe illness (COVID-19) in areas where air pollution is higher. However, these studies did not take into account such factors as how people infect each other (infection dynamics). Because there was initially a high incidence of infections in the Netherlands in areas where air quality is poorer due to livestock farming, questions were asked in the Netherlands about a possible link between the two. High infection rates were also seen later on in areas where air quality is poorer, but where livestock farming plays little or no role in the region. The study will focus on a possible link between air quality and COVID-19 throughout the Netherlands and all sources of air pollution.
RIVM is now starting a nationwide study that will not only look at air pollution from different sources, but will also take into account the infection dynamics between people, events (such as the Carnival period in the Netherlands), testing policy and measures. The study will use data on air quality, weather conditions and the incidence and course of COVID-19 in the Netherlands.
The researchers take human-to-human transmission into account by looking at the number and severity of COVID-19 cases over time and across the Netherlands. Another new aspect in this study is the use of patient data at the individual level so that the relationship with air pollution and sources can be established at a detailed scale level.
The research programme consists of various parts (in Dutch). The results will be published in a single report. This report is expected to be published in 2023.
The study will be conducted by RIVM, GGD-GHOR Nederland, Utrecht University, Wageningen University and Research. Because of the complexity of the issue, RIVM is setting up a scientific board: a committee of national and international experts on air quality and infectious diseases. In addition, a societal focus group will be set up. This group will consist of stakeholders, including municipalities, provinces, the business community, the Netherlands Agricultural and Horticultural Association (LTO) and patient organisations.