PLANS to tackle air pollution should be a key plank of any Covid-19 prevention plans, according to Friends of the Earth Scotland.

The call comes as the charity expressed frustration that plans to implement low emission zones in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee have been halted due to coronavirus. The first phase set emission standards which must be met by 20% of buses which pass through the city centre. The next phase will apply to all vehicles. The Scottish Government said it was no longer practical to implement the scheme.

However Richard Dixon, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “It’s very frustrating that the low emission zones have been put on hold. It is certainly true that local authority officers are not available because they are either working on coronavirus or they have been furloughed .

“But you could see low emission zones as an essential part of dealing with coronavirus because there is a link between air pollution and coronavirus. If you live in a polluted place and you are vulnerable to a heart condition or a stroke, air pollution makes that worse.

“Then if you put coronavirus on top of that, it makes it worse and that could kill you. So anything that looks to tackle the air pollution problem may be a key tactic to head off the coronavirus. Lots of things have to be postponed just now and that’s a shame but it is perfectly understandable. However, this is one that shouldn’t have been because it contributes to our fight against coronavirus.”

He also called for councils across Scotland to ramp up cycling infrastructure and traffic calming measures. Yesterday Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced a £2bn package to help increase cycling and walking capacity across the UK. Reports show a dramatic increase the number of people using bikes to get around, with weekday increases in Edinburgh of 252% and 454% more cyclists at weekends.

Dixon added: “People have enjoyed walking and cycling through quiet streets and so there will be a demand to keep some of those positive changes.”

It is estimated are about 2500 early deaths annually in Scotland due to air pollution. In January, analysis from the urban policy researchers and charity Centre for Cities found that in Edinburgh it was the cause of one in 29 deaths.