Bhopal: The six deaths linked to the COVID-19 virus in Madhya Pradesh's Bhopal were of people exposed to the toxic methyl isocyanate gas that leaked from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in the city in 1984 and killed over 20,000 people. The six who died, like the 5.74 lakh people who survived that disaster, had weakened immune systems, which allowed infection by the novel coronavirus.
The first to die after infection by the COVID-19 virus was 55-year-old Naresh Khatik on April 5. He suffered respiratory disorders after exposure to the gas.
The second person - Jagannath Maithil, 80 - died three days later. Maithil lived in Ibrahimpura, one of a few localities (including neighbouring Chowki Imambada and Jehangirabad) where several gas tragedy survivors lived.
The third coronavirus-linked death was 52-year-old Ramprakash Yadav, who had previously undergone treatment for tuberculosis. His condition worsened with each passing year until he died on April 11.
Ashfaq Nadvi, 73, Imran Khan, 42, and Yunus Khan, 60, died between April 11 and 14. Khan suffered from oral cancer. Yunus Khan and his wife were both severely affected by exposure to the gas; they both developed cancer as well. Nadvi suffered from hypertension and was a diabetic.
An NDTV report quoting activist Rachna Dhingra, says, "Survivors' organisations warned the government on March 21 that people exposed to the gas needed special care. Over 1,000 suffer from lung problems such as asthma and many others from heart conditions, hypertension and TB."
"This is the most vulnerable population in the city and the government has paid absolutely no attention to them," she added, urging the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government to start screening and identifying COVID-19 cases on a war footing.
On Monday, two days after Yadav died, district administration began screening residents (between 50,000 and 60,000) and sanitising the Jehangirabad neighbourhood.
The novel coronavirus, so named because it is a virus not previously identified in humans, can severely affect people with low immunity levels - such as the gas tragedy survivors who are all already battling chronic and disabling diseases and medical conditions.
Data from community health units of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital & Research Centre (run by the ICMR, the nodal body in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis) indicates that over 50 per cent of the survivors suffer from cardiovascular problems, nearly 60 per cent have pulmonary conditions and around 16 per cent suffer from diabetes.
A further 1.84 per cent (or 10,550 people) has been paid compensation as cancer survivors, as per records from the Office of the Welfare Commissioner.
Activists have expressed concern that those exposed to the gas leak are at least five times more vulnerable to infection by the COVID-19 virus than the general population.
Madhya Pradesh has over 1,400 confirmed coronavirus cases so far and 70 deaths have been linked to the infectious virus. Of the state's districts Indore and Bhopal are the worst-affected.
Across the country over 15,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported and 507 deaths registered.
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