Four members of a remote tribe living on India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands have tested positive for Covid-19, sparking fears for the group’s survival.
The Greater Andamese number as few as 53 and have limited immunity to viruses like Covid-19 due to their isolated nature.
They numbered more than 5,000 in the 1850s but when the British colonised the islands successive outbreaks of diseases like measles caused their numbers to plummet.
Two of the Great Andamese who have tested positive have been admitted to hospital and two have been quarantined in a care centre.
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“It is extremely alarming that members of the Great Andamanese tribe tested positive for Covid-19,” said Sophie Grigg, a Senior Researcher at Survival International, an NGO campaigning for the rights of tribal people.
“They will be all too aware of the devastating impact of epidemics that have decimated their people”.
Health workers who tested the Greater Andamese on their home of Strait Island believe members of the tribe may have contracted the virus after travelling to the capital of the archipelago, Port Blair, for work.
The islands have recorded 2,985 Covid-19 cases but the virus is surging, with the highest reproduction or “R” value out of India’s 36 union territories and states.
The Greater Andamese are one of five vulnerable tribes on the islands and the authorities are trying to take urgent steps to protect them.
The 476-strong Jarawa have been moved to the most isolated part of the jungle reserve they inhabit over fears they could contract the virus from travelers using a trunk road cutting through their territory. Health workers will test members of the Ongi and Shompen.
The fifth tribe is the uncontacted North Sentinelese, who are notoriously hostile to outsiders and killed American missionary John Allen Chau after he attempted to land on their island in 2018.
Activists now say Covid-19 has also spread among vulnerable tribal groups on India’s mainland, with five members of the forest-dwelling Didayi testing positive in the state of Odisha over the last couple of days.
The virus has had a devastating impact among indigenous communities in the Amazon, killing over 280 tribespeople in Brazil and Peru.