Covid-19 strikes remotest corner of world: At least five members of Great Andamanese tribe infected

Boa Sr, the last speaker of one of the Great Andamanese languages, who died in 2010. Credit: Alok Das/Survival

At least five members of the Great Andamanese tribe in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have tested positive for the coronavirus, Survival International, London based advocacy group for the tribal people said.

Of the five, two have been admitted to hospital, at Strait Island.

The tests were carried out when a team of health department was sent to Strait Island to check the spread of COVID19 among the tribes after six other members of Great Andamanese Tribes were tested positive at Port Blair nearly two weeks back.

Andaman Islanders are dwindling in numbers. Credit: Anvita Abbi/Survival

The team reportedly tested 37 samples and out of 37, four members of Great Andamanese Tribes were found positive.

Presently, only 56 members of the Great Andamanese tribe are still alive, down from over 5,000 in the 1850s when the British colonised the islands in the 1850s.

The islands are a Union territory of India, comprising more than 500 islands in the Bay of Bengal/Andaman Sea, of which only about 37 are inhabited.

“It is extremely alarming that members of the Great Andamanese tribe tested positive for Covid-19,” Survival International Senior Researcher Sophie Grig said.

“They will be all too aware of the devastating impact of epidemics that have decimated their people. The Andaman authorities must act urgently to prevent the virus reaching more Great Andamanese and to prevent infection in the other tribes.”

The numbers of other tribes are also dwindling. Only 238 members of the Shompen tribe now survive, besides 520 from the Jarawa tribe and approximately 120 and 150 people from the Onge and Sentinelese tribes.

Andaman Islanders live in one of the world's most remote regions. Credit: Anvita Abbi/Survival

Indian government has sought a report from the Tribal Welfare Department in Port Blair on the infections among the Great Andamanese tribe, and take all measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We are taking all precautionary measures to protect these Vulnerable Tribal Groups from the Covid-19 pandemic,” India’s Minister of Tribal Affairs Arjun Munda said.

Islanders at Port Blair hospital. Credit: Anvita Abbi/Survival

Covid-19 has already hit tribes in Brazil and Peru hard, including isolated Amazon tribes such as the recently contacted Arara people of the Cachoeira Seca (Dry Waterfall) territory.

There are fears for the safety of uncontacted tribes there, including a group of 10 uncontacted tribal people who entered an indigenous community in Brazil’s western Amazon region earlier this month.