“I have the impression that my chest is exploding, that I am going to suffocate”: barely recovered from COVID-19, Fatima Jaffer, cannot catch her breath in Vancouver, in Western Canada, invaded by smoke from massive fires in the United States.
The third city in Canada has recorded world records for poor air quality since the start of the week, to the point of complicating testing for the coronavirus, according to public health services.
The Canadian Pacific metropolis, nestled between sea and mountains 40 km north of the United States, had the worst air quality on the planet on Friday, ahead of Portland in the US state of Oregon, according to the specialized site World Air Quality Index.
Thick acrid smoke from the California and Oregon wildfires suffocated the townspeople, planted in a postcard setting and usually bathed in a pleasant ocean breeze.
“I'm afraid of the long-term damage this smoke could cause to my lungs,” Ms. Jaffer, a 58-year-old doctoral student at the University of British Columbia, told AFP.
“I had just overcome the fear of COVID-19 and felt like I could breathe again (…) but now I literally can't anymore,” she says.
She now fears the worsening of her asthma problems.
It was a “horrible week for air quality”, confirms Armel Castellan, meteorologist specializing in the preparation of alerts to the population.
Faced with the situation, the authorities called on citizens to close their windows, avoid any vigorous physical exercise and opened five shelters for some 2,000 homeless in this metropolis of 2.5 million inhabitants.
Smoke and COVID-19
People with asthma or the homeless are most at risk of smoke inhalation and the new coronavirus, said provincial public health official Bonnie Henry.
British Columbia is currently seeing a record number of new coronavirus cases, worse than in the spring.
“For many of us there is confusion between the symptoms caused by a smoky sky and those caused by COVID-19, especially for people who have an underlying lung disease, asthma, illness heart disease and diabetes, ”Ms. Henry said at a press conference.
The situation of the homeless, many of whom already suffer from chronic illnesses, according to a study, is of particular concern.
“If you are out and about and homeless, and surrounded by this smoke and the pandemic, there is not much you can do to escape it,” says shelter manager Jeremy Hunka, pointing to the great vulnerability of These persons.
Barry Appal, a 64-year-old executive, is most worried about his 30-year-old nephew with cystic fibrosis.
“He's very sensitive to anything that touches his lungs,” he explains. “He is already terrified of COVID-19, which could wipe him out in the blink of an eye.”
Armel Castellan fortunately anticipates an improvement in air quality for the next week with storms forming in the Pacific Ocean.
But with the signs of climate change, clearly visible with the worsening of forest fires from year to year, “we are not at the end of our troubles”, he laments.