All five patients who died of the coronavirus in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, were survivors of the city’s 1984 gas tragedy and so more vulnerable to the infection than normal individuals, PTI reported on Wednesday.

On March 23, the Madhya Pradesh government had converted the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre into a dedicated facility for the coronavirus patients, leaving survivors of the chemical disaster with no medical care. Reports said that several patients, including critical ones, were discharged to make way for the special hospital.

Rachna Dhingra, an activist with the Bhopal Group of Information and Action, which works with survivors of the 1984 tragedy, said that they were at least five times more vulnerable to the coronavirus than other people. “Instead of paying special attention to the needs of Bhopal gas victims, the state government took over BMHRC and turned it into a medical facility for Covid-19 patients,” Dhingra said. “For the last 22 days, no gas victim was even allowed to avail emergency services there.”

The gas leak in the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal in December 1984 killed over 3,500 people, according to state government figures. Thousands more have died from the after-effects of the poisonous gas after the incident. The survivors have increased rates of cancer and birth defects, and suffer from a compromised immunity system factors that puts them at a high risk to contract the coronavirus.

Dhingra alleged that the first coronavirus victim from Bhopal, a 55-year-old man, died at a city hospital on April 5 due to negligence of the authorities. Another 80-year-old victim, who was a retired employee of the Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, was also not provided proper medical care, she said. The patient died on April 8 and his sample tested positive for the infection on April 11.

Meanwhile, a 40-year-old gas tragedy victim, who was suffering from oral cancer for more than a year, died on April 12 and his sample tested positive for the coronavirus later.

The fourth victim was a 52-year-old survivor, who suffered from a permanent injury, had history of tuberculosis and could not get immediate care for his respiratory problems, Dhingra said. The man recently tested positive for the coronavirus and died on his way to the government-run Hamidia hospital, she added. Dhingra said a 75-year-old journalist, who also survived the gas tragedy, died on April 11 and his sample test report came out positive for coronavirus on Tuesday.

Taking note of the deaths, the state government has decided to categorise BMHRC as a “Covid-19 Health Centre” where gas tragedy survivors can continue to avail treatment for their ailments. An order to this effect was issued late on Tuesday evening, an unidentified health department official told PTI. “Now, gas victims can continue to get treatment as usual in BMHRC,” he said.

Bhopal Divisional Commissioner Kalpana Shrivastava said the earlier decision to make BMHRC a dedicated facility for the coronavirus patients was taken at the “government level”.

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