The Andaman and Nicobar islands administration has decided to conduct random testing for Covid-19 among members of the Jarawa tribal group after nine people from the Great Andamanese tribal group tested positive for the infection.
The administration has also tested some samples collected from the Onge tribal group in Dugong creek, but none of them have tested positive.
“Further, with the emergence of COVID-19 positive cases amongst the Great Andamanese, the Administration has taken some samples of Onge tribal from Dugong Creek and all have been tested negative. Further, the Administration has decided to conduct random testing of Jarawa tribal shortly,” stated a release from the administration Friday.
There are six notified Scheduled Tribes in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Apart from Nicobarese, the five others are listed as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups — Jarawa, Onge, Great Andamanese, Shompen and Sentinelese.
“The A&N Administration reiterates its commitment to protect its Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) and their safety is of paramount importance. It will leave no stone unturned to protect our human heritage,” the release stated.
Among the five PVTGs, the administration is in touch with four through field workers, but the Sentinelese attack any outsider approaching their island. In November 2018, US national John Allen Chau (27) was killed by the Sentinelese when he tried to approach them.
“There is no question of approaching the Sentinelese in North Sentinel Island, since they so far have avoided outside contact. But since the other PVTGs are in touch through field workers and are also vulnerable, we are keeping strict vigil. All the Great Andamanese have been tested, some of Onge were tested and found negative. Shortly, we will go for random tests among the Jarawa as a precautionary measure,” said a senior administrative official.
At present, there are around 500 members of the Jarawa tribal group in the West Coast of the Jarawa reserve.
The statement said that as a proactive measure, the administration earlier shifted the Great Andamanese and Jarawa to the Strait Island and West Coast of Jarawa reserve, respectively, to avoid any contact between them and outsiders.
“Patrolling on the west coast has been intensified by AAJVS (Adim Janjati Vikas Samity under tribal welfare department), Police and Forest Departments. Fisheries department has also sensitized fishermen not to interact with Jarawa,” the statement read.
“Jarawa have been advised to stay in smaller groups to avoid any possible spread in an event of COVID-19 outbreak. Intensive monitoring of Jarawa movement in Yeaterji, Bamboo Tikrey, Phooltala, Santipur and Katai Dera is being carried out by AAJVS staff,” it added.
The administration also stated that the Jarawa have been sensitised about Covid-19 and the precautions through videos and pictures in their own language.
“Field functionaries have been regularly advised to interact with tribal with face mask, gloves and keeping distance. The movement of field functionaries of AAJVS and other line departments to the tribal settlements is being allowed only after COVID testing and they have been advised not to move outside the tribal settlement and interact with the outsiders. Further, all the field functionaries are being periodically tested for COVID-19,” the statement said.
The statement further said, “Though all Great Andamanese were shifted to Strait Island in April, 2020 after conducting COVID-19 test but many of the Great Andamanese are in govt jobs and have govt. accommodation in Port Blair. So many families have returned to Port Blair in the month of June, 2020 after declaration of unlock. In view of surge in COVID-19 cases in August, 2020, the Andamanese tribal were again advised to shift to their settlement at Strait Island…”
While five Great Andamese who were at Port Blair tested positive last month, four in Strait Island tested positive on August 23. The administration has now tested all 59 members of the tribal group.