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10 of 59 Surviving Members of Great Andamanese Tribe Test Positive for Covid19

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Aug 28, 2020

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Credit: Andamans Guide

Ten individuals from the Great Andamanese tribe tested positive for Covid19, which is a cause of concern because the entire tribe comprises of 59 people. The tribe currently inhabits the Strait Island, which is a part of the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, and they are highly vulnerable to disease due to low immunity.

Six members of the tribe had left Strait Island to travel to Port Blair for work purposes. There, they tested positive for Covid19 and were sent to the hospital. They’ve now recovered and are in home quarantine in the city. A team of health officials later traveled to Strait Island and discovered four more Covid19 positive individuals who had never left the island. They are under observation at a local hospital, reports AFP, even though they aren’t showing symptoms.

The Great Andamanese Tribe is one of five endangered tribes on the Andaman Islands. All five tribes, including the Onge, Sompen, Jarawas, and Sentinelese, have a total population of around 900 people. While some, like the Great Andamanese, have contact with the outside world, others, like the Sentinelese, are completely isolated. This isolation makes introduced diseases a great risk for tribes who haven’t been exposed to large-scale human contact, and the pathogens that would help them build immunity. Anthropologists highlighted the issue in March, bringing up the example of a 19th century measles epidemic that wiped out most of the Great Andamanese tribe.


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“Over the last few months, every person who has been travelling to these islands, particularly the restricted travel areas, has been tested, but it seems that someone carrying the virus must have gone undetected,” Dr Avijit Roy, a regional senior health director, told The Guardian. Roy added, “No one is allowed on to the island until they have been tested negative, and so right now we have ruled out the possibility of new cases.”

Sophie Grig, a senior researcher with tribal rights organization Survival International, said, “The Andaman authorities must act urgently to prevent the virus reaching more Great Andamanese and to prevent infection in the other tribes. The waters around North Sentinel must be properly policed and no outsiders should enter the territories of any of the Andaman tribes without their consent,” in a statement.

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Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is the senior culture writer at The Swaddle, with an interest in cultural analysis, environment, and the science of mental health.  Write to her using aditi@theswaddle.com, or find her on social media @aditimurti.

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