Barely hours after the A&N Islands were declared corona free, a man tested positive for the virus. The fact that he was a government official involved in essential services and is likely to have made extensive contacts in the course of his work, has put Port Blair in the grip of anxiety.The total count of coronavirus positive cases in the island now stands at 12, and four hotspots were declared and sealed in Port Blair area.
“So far, we have collected over 1,600 samples for further testing from Port Blair. With the 12th case, we have amped up the quarantine facilities at GB Pant government hospital with 60 beds and 10 rooms. We have even urged the private hospitals to help us in containing the outbreak,” says Dr Avijit Roy, Nodal officer for COVID19 in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Virus and the aboriginal tribes
The virus outbreak has brought the Jarawa, Onge, Great Andamanese and Sentinelese indigenous tribes of the Islands into focus once again. The Jarawas, with an estimated population of 500, survived a measles outbreak twice, due to the contact with the outside world.
Today, Jarawas live in the Jawara tribal reserve which extends from South Andaman to Middle Andaman. The Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) that cuts through the reserve makes the tribes extremely vulnerable to contact from the outside world, hence putting additional risk on their low immunity, which makes it easier for any kind of virus to drive the tribe to extinction.
Although the Supreme Court order in 2002 stated that the Andaman Trunk Road should be closed, convoys still ply through the reserve.
“So far there has been no risk to the Jarawas in the South and Middle Andamans. The problem arises when the settler population comes in contact with the Jarawas. The administration should ensure that the settlers do not come in contact with the tribes to avoid an outbreak in the community,” says Manish Chandi, a researcher with Andaman and Nicobar Environmental Team.
When asked about closing ATR in the light of the pandemic, the nodal officer said that only government vehicles supplying essential commodities ply through ATR now.
“We are in consultation with the Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti to protect the tribes from the virus and have set up an auxillary mid-wives in case of a possible outbreak in Middle Andamans,” Dr Roy added....