The pandemic figures spelled bad news and worse for Indians on Friday morning.
After topping 75,000, the number of daily cases recorded in India rose to 77,500 and counting so that, statistically speaking, now at least one Indian citizen in every random 400 has come in contact with the Covid-19 virus.
The virus this week also infected 10 members of the dying Great Andamanese tribe of just 53 people.
This calls for urgent action. The government, at the Centre and the Union territory level, is morally bound to protect its citizens.
Many among the infected used to travel to Port Blair where they hold government jobs. With a population of around four lakhs, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands has reported 2,268 coronavirus cases so far, with 37 deaths.
The government is obliged to protect the Great Andamanese from the latest epidemic also for historical reasons. The Great Andamanese are an endangered tribe whose numbers have dwindled from 8,000 in 1858 to the paltry figure of the present day.
This happened because the British settlers coercively altered their hunter-gatherer lifestyle, in the process introducing diseases among them.
Successive epidemics of syphilis, measles, conjunctivitis and other diseases blinded and decimated huge populations. It included the Jangil tribe of Rutland Island, which became extinct in 1931.
Epidemics, in fact, are a major threat to tribes that newly emerge from isolation. This was last witnessed when, three years after they were socialised, in 1999, the Jarawa tribe got almost wiped out by a measles epidemic.
The population of Jarawas stands between 250 and 400 today. The Onges number no more than 100. Thus, containing the coronavirus at this stage is vitally important, seeing as the Great Andamanese tribe, along with the Onges, Jarawas and the uncontacted Sentinelese, form part of the Indian chapter of the human genome project.
Should these people disappear, the key to solving the mysteries of human evolution will be lost forever.
Admiral D.K. Joshi’s officers should, therefore, swing into patrol, conduct a risk assessment and ensure complete eradication of the disease from one island to the next in a deadline-driven manner before the crisis gets out of hand.