27.08.2020 India

Coronavirus strikes dwindling tribe in India's Andaman archipelago

By Murali Krishnan in New Delhi - RFI
AP - Aijaz Rahi
LISTEN AUG 27, 2020
AP - Aijaz Rahi

At least ten members of the Great Andamanese tribe in India's Andaman Islands are reported to have tested positive for Covid-19, raising concerns for the future of the dwindling indigenous group, which is believed number around 50.

Six trime members have recovered from the coronavirus and have been put in home quarantine, while the rest are undergoing treatment in a local hospital, hospital officials said.

“It is only a matter of abundant precaution that we have isolated them in a hospital and are taking care. Once they complete 10 days without symptoms, they will go to their island and remain in home quarantine,” said Avijit Roy, nodal officer in-charge of Covid-19.

The administration has also stepped in to take all precautionary measures to protect these vulnerable tribal groups from the pandemic.

“Officials are regularly in touch with the local administration in Port Blair (the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands). Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah are very keen to act for the welfare of the indigenous tribal group in the islands,” Minister of Tribal Affairs Arjun Munda told Indian media.

It is believed that members of the tribe travel between Port Blair and their secluded island and may have contracted the infection in the process as some have taken on sundry jobs in the city.

The Great Andamanese are believed to have a population of just over 50, down from over 5,000 in the 1850s when the British colonised the islands. They mostly live on one of the 37 islands in the coral reef-fringed archipelago.

“It is extremely alarming that members of the Great Andamanese tribe tested positive for Covid-19. They will be all too aware of the devastating impact of epidemics that have decimated their people,” said Sophie Grig, senior researcher of Survival International, the London-based rights group, which works for tribal peoples' rights.

“The Andaman authorities must act urgently to prevent the virus reaching more Great Andamanese and to prevent infection in the other tribes,” the group said in a press statement.

According to Survivor International, tuberculosis and alcoholism are widespread, making the tribe particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.

In April this year, Licho, one of the last speakers of the Sare Great Andamanese language, died after suffering for years from multiple health problems, including chronic tuberculosis. The Andaman Islands are an Indian archipelago in the Bay of Bengal. This chain of islands are known for their palm-lined, white-sand beaches, mangroves and tropical rainforests.

The indigenous populations consist of five tribes – the Great Andamanese, Onges, Jarwas, Shompen and Sentinalese. It was the largest tribe earlier before the establishment of penal settlement in Andaman Islands.

Authorities are trying to ensure the pandemic does not spread among the archipelago's other indigenous tribes.

Originally a hunting tribe, now the Great Andamanese tribe is dependent on government subsidised rations, health care and education while fishing remain their basic livelihood.

Tribes in Brazil and Peru have also been hit by Covid-19 and many have died because of coronavirus across Brazil's Amazon region.

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