The Bhopal district administration has decided to survey all survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide gas leak tragedy and identify patients at high risk for the coronavirus, The Hindu reported on Saturday. The survivors have greater vulnerability to the disease, having suffered the poisonous effects of the gas.

At least 4,000 people were killed in the early hours of December 3, 1984, when 42 tonnes of toxic methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a plant owned by Union Carbide, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company, in Bhopal. Thousands more died due to the effects of the gas leak in subsequent years. 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.

“For the identification of the gas affected people, their survey and the identification of high-risk persons after that and the collection of their samples and subsequent treatment, a team has been constituted to take necessary action,” said an order passed by Bhopal Collector Tarun Kumar Pithode.

The Pulmonary Medicine Centre has been designated as a care centre for the observation of asymptomatic Covid-19 individuals among the survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy. Pithode said possible cases will be quarantined at the state-run centre until the results of their tests come in. Those infected will later be taken to different centres for treatment, he added.

The collector said a survey of the survivors is already under way at the Bhopal Memorial Hospital​ And Research Centre.

Bhopal has so far recorded 526 cases of the coronavirus, including 15 deaths. As many as 13 of the 15 people were survivors of the 1984 tragedy. Four of them died outside hospitals and six within a day of their admission. The incident had given them chronic illnesses and weakened their immunity.

Rachna Dhingra, a member of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, an organisation that works on research, publications and campaigns in support of the survivors’ struggle for justice, said even asymptomatic survivors and those over 60 should be tested. “If only symptomatic persons are tested for Covid-19, a whole bunch of those potentially infected and asymptomatic will be left out,” she averred. “There is no time to spare. If the government is short on resources, it can start by conducting tests for the severely affected areas in the leak.”