At least four members of the Great Andamanese tribe in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have tested positive for Covid-19 this week, sparking concerns about the impact of the ongoing pandemic on various indigenous communities in the union territory.
The novel coronavirus cases were discovered when state health officials were conducting universal testing of all members of the tribe — there are 53 of them as of now — who reside in Strait Island, Dr Avijit Roy, nodal officer-in-charge of Covid-19 in Andaman and Nicobar, told indianexpress.com.
During the last round of testing, conducted nearly a month ago, as many as six other members of the Great Andamanese, who were living in Port Blair, tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
“We realised that many of these people, who are in isolated places, face the risk of contracting the illness. To avoid an emergency situation, we tested all the people on the island on August 23 and found four people to be Covid-19 positive as of now,” Dr Roy said. All four are stable and have been admitted to the Govind Ballabh Pant Hospital in Port Blair.
According to the senior health officer, the members of the tribe could have contracted the illness while travelling to or from Port Blair for work. “We usually test everyone visiting the island, but some people may have evaded testing, which could have led to these cases,” Dr Roy said.
Nearly 3,000 cases have so far been recorded in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, including 37 deaths and 2,231 recoveries. As the number of cases continues to rise, many activists fear that the indigenous tribes in the region — such as the Great Andamanese, Jarawas, and Shompen — could be more vulnerable to the virus.
To prevent the spread of the virus amongst these tribes, health authorities have restricted their movement and are conducting widespread Covid-19 tests. “A majority of the tribals have been isolated from the rest of the population. They are being looked after by a team of experts,” Dr Roy said. “If they wish to visit the island, they are first tested and then allowed to go.”
When cases first began to spike, tribes like the Jarawas were shifted to isolated parts of the island to protect them from contracting the virus. Universal testing of all aboriginal tribes in the region has commenced and will take place in phases, the health official said.
Reacting to reports of rising cases amongst Andaman and Nicobar’s indigenous tribes, Chief Secretary Chetan Sanghi tweeted: “Primitive Vulnerable Tribes are all safe. Every precaution taken to protect this heritage of humanity.”
Primitive Vulnerable Tribes are all safe. Every precaution taken to protect this heritage of humanity.
Rumours cause more damage than the Pandemic.#AndamanFightsCOVID19
— Chetan Sanghi (@ChetanSanghi) August 27, 2020
The population of Andaman and Nicobar Islands’ primitive tribes — the Jarawas, North Sentinelese, Great Andamanese, Onge and Shompen — has rapidly declined over the years. The epidemics and crippling health crises of the past have been seen to disproportionately impact these indigenous tribal groups.