Coronavirus hits remoted Indian island tribe

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Coronavirus hits isolated Indian island tribe

Photo credit: Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain

Ten members of India's dwindling great Andaman tribe have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said Thursday, raising concerns over the safety of the group and other indigenous peoples in the remote archipelago.

Of the 10, six have recovered and been quarantined while the rest are being treated at a local hospital, officials told AFP.

A little more than 50 large Andamans survive today, living on the tiny street where the Indian government provides for their food and shelter.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a chain of islands in the Indian Ocean with around 400,000 inhabitants, have so far reported 2,268 coronavirus cases with 37 deaths.

Indian authorities dispatched a team of health officials to Strait Island on Sunday after six tribal members recently tested positive in the archipelago's capital, Port Blair.

Some members of the tribe travel to Port Blair, where they have government jobs.

"The team tested 37 samples and four members of the Great Andaman Tribe found positive. They were hospitalized," Avijit Ray, a senior health officer responsible for disease management in the Andaman Islands, told AFP.

Sanjiv Mittal, a senior government official on tribal welfare, told AFP authorities they would do their best to keep all members safe and healthy.

Extremely vulnerable

Anthropologists and isolated tribal activists say there were more than 5,000 large Andamans living in the islands when British settlers arrived in the 19th century.

However, according to Survivor International, hundreds were killed in conflict while defending their territory from the British invasion, and thousands more were wiped out in epidemics of measles, influenza and syphilis.

In the past few days, concerns about the safety of the great Andaman and other tribes, including the remote Jarawa and Sentinelese, have grown.

Poachers continue to invade their territory despite strict government restrictions.

Eight fishermen were arrested last week for illegally entering Jarawa territory, local media reported.

In 2018, a 26-year-old American missionary trying to convert the nomadic hunter-gatherer tribe was killed after secretly visiting North Sentinel Island.

His body was never found.

Outsiders are prohibited from visiting the island in order to protect the Sentinelese way of life and not to expose them to infectious diseases.

As one of the most isolated tribes in the world, the Sentinelese are extremely susceptible to disease from outsiders, especially during a global pandemic like the coronavirus, experts say.

"The Andaman authorities need to act urgently to prevent the virus from reaching more of the larger Andamans and to prevent the other strains from being infected," said Sophie Grig, a senior researcher at Survival.

"The waters around North Sentinel must be properly monitored and no outsiders should enter the areas of any of the Andaman tribes without their consent."

India is the third largest country in the world after the USA and Brazil with more than three million coronavirus cases.

So far, around 60,000 people have died from the infection.

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© 2020 AFP

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