Coronavirus from India: Covid strikes remote tribe of Greater Andaman

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Par Soutik Biswas
India correspondent

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A remote tribe in the Indian archipelago of Andamans has recorded its first cases of coronavirus.

Four members of the Greater Andamanese tribe have tested positive for Covid-19, a health official told the BBC.

Two of them were admitted to hospital, while the other two were quarantined in a health center.

The Greater Andamanese is believed to have a population of 53 and live on one of the archipelago’s 37 populated islands bordered by coral reefs.

The eastern archipelago of Andamans and Nicobar has recorded 2,985 cases of Covid-19 and 41 deaths since its first infection was detected in early June.

The first cases of Covid-19 among the endangered Greater Andamanese tribe were detected last week when all of its 53 members were tested for infection on Strait Island, near the capital Port Blair, where they live, said at the BBC Dr Avijit Roy, senior health official.

Health and emergency workers traveled through rough sea water in boats to the island last week to test the tribe in one day.

“They have all been very cooperative,” said Dr. Roy.

Many of the tribe are traveling between Port Blair and their remote island and may have contracted the infection in the process, he said. A few members of the tribe even do odd jobs in the city.

Dr Roy said ensuring that the pandemic does not spread among other indigenous tribes in the archipelago was now a top priority.

“We are following the movements closely and testing certain tribes en masse,” he said.

The Andamans are home to five vulnerable tribes: the Jarawa, the Sentinels of the North, the Great Andamanians, the Onge and the Shompen.

The Jarawas and the Sentinels of the North have not yet integrated into the general population. The Sentinels of the North are hostile to outsiders, and no one is allowed on their island. In 2018, an American citizen John Allen Chau, was

shot down with bows and arrows as he tried to land there.

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legendTo see the Jarawas, many tourists take a two-hour bus that runs through the Jarawa Reserves.

According to London-based Survival International, which works for the rights of tribal peoples, Greater Andaman numbered more than 5,000 when the British colonized the islands in the 1850s. Suffering from the long-term impact of diseases introduced by the occupation, their number has decreased.

“It is extremely alarming that members of the great Andamanese tribe have tested positive for Covid-19. They will only be too aware of the devastating impact of the epidemics that have decimated their people, ”said Sophie Grigg, the group’s senior researcher.

In 2010, Boa Senior, the last speaker of one of the great Andamanese languages, died at the age of around 85. The islands are often referred to as an “anthropologist’s dream” and are one of the most linguistically diverse regions in the world.

Meanwhile, the approximately 476 members of the nomadic Jarawa tribe, who live in a vast forest reserve between the south and central Andamans, have already been displaced and isolated in the most remote part of the jungle after the outbreak of the contagion, officials said.

The reason is that officials want to minimize any risk of contact between tribe members who have little immunity and people traveling for essential and emergency work across the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) that crosses through. the forest reserve. The national road, built in the 1970s, is the only road connecting 400 villages from Baratang to Diglipur.

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legendAndamans is home to five “particularly vulnerable” tribes, including the Jarawas and the Sentinels of the North

A team of health workers and doctors are being dispatched to test more than 115 members of the Ongi tribe who live on an island, Dr Roy said. Members of the Shompen tribe will also be tested.

Emergency and health workers sailing to the islands where native tribes live had to pass rapid Covid-19 tests before leaving and were quarantined for a week upon their return.

Dr Roy said cases of Covid-19 have been detected on 10 islands in the archipelago so far.

The Andamans have two hospitals, three health centers and 10 care centers to treat patients with Covid-19. They also have one of the highest test rates in India.

Tribes in Brazil and Peru have been affected by Covid-19. More than 280 indigenous people have died from the coronavirus in the Amazon region of Brazil.

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