New Delhi: Officials monitoring the welfare and protection of vulnerable tribal groups such as the Jarawa and Sentinelese in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have tested positive for Covid-19, putting the indigenous folk at risk, ThePrint has learnt.
Functionaries of the Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti (AAJVS), a department under the Union Territory’s administration, have been regularly visiting, patrolling and interacting with the reclusive tribal groups — who are designated as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG) by the Indian government — to apprise them of the pandemic situation and advise them to wear masks and gloves, and maintain social distancing.
After the officials tested positive in the last two weeks, the Andaman and Nicobar administration has decided to conduct random testing of the Jarawa tribals, a source in the administration said.
Some samples of the Onge tribe from Dugong Creek, another indigenous tribe on the islands, were also taken, the source said. They have all tested negative.
Over the past month, Covid-positive cases among the Great Andamanese tribe also emerged. Most of the Great Andamanese, however, are in mainstream society, hold government jobs and live in Port Blair. The other tribes that are now under risk have no human contact.
There are six notified scheduled tribes in A&N islands. Except Nicobarese, the rest of the five tribes — Great Andamanese, Jarawa, Sentinelese Onge and Shompen — are recognised as PVTGs.
UT Chief Secretary Chetan Sanghi told ThePrint in a WhatsApp message that “primitive vulnerable tribes are all safe and all precautions are being taken to keep them safe”. However, he did not comment on the AAJVS functionaries testing positive.
He also tweeted:
Primitive Vulnerable Tribes are all safe. Every precaution taken to protect this heritage of humanity.
Rumours cause more damage than the Pandemic.#AndamanFightsCOVID19
— Chetan Sanghi (@ChetanSanghi) August 27, 2020
According to the Union health ministry, 2,985 Covid cases have been reported in the UT as of Thursday. Of these, 635 are currently active while 41 have died from the disease.
AAJVS being tested
According to a second source in the UT administration, there have been drives by field staff to sensitise the tribals about the Covid disease and the necessary precautions required to be taken through pictures and videos in their own language.
“The movement of AAJVS and other line departments’ personnel to the tribal settlements is being allowed only after proper Covid testing,” the official said.
“The officials posted at tribal settlements have been advised not to move outside the tribal settlement and interact with the outsiders. Further, all field functionaries are being periodically tested for COVID-19,” he added.
A statement released by the UT administration Thursday said: “The Andaman & Nicobar Administration is alert to the safety of its tribe, especially Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). A number of steps have been taken proactively for the safety and protection of the tribes from mid-March 2020 onwards even before any case of COVID-19 was reported in the islands.”
Patrolling intensified, tribe asked to stay in small groups
After the pandemic broke, the UT’s administration had shifted the Great Andamanese to the Strait Island and the Jarawa to the West Coast of Jarawa reserve to avoid any contact with outsiders.
The administration has also restricted the number of convoys going to the area to ensure the safety of the Jarawa tribe, the second official said.
“Jarawa have been provided with tools and steel rods etc. for making arrows to keep them engaged. Patrolling on the west coast has been intensified by AAJVS, Police and Forest Departments,” the statement said.
“Fisheries Department has also sensitised fishermen not to interact with Jarawa. Jarawa have been advised to stay in smaller groups to avoid any possible spread in an event of COVID-19 outbreak.
“Intensive monitoring of Jarawa movement in Yeaterji, Bamboof Tikrey, Phooltala, Santipur and Katai Dera is being carried out by AAJVS staff,” the statement added.