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Covid-19 seeps into Kerala’s tribal areas, but Edamalakkudy keeps itself safe

Its feat is a result of tight restrictions on the entry and exit to the village by the tribal councils, high awareness within the community about the dangers of the virus and the interventions by government departments to protect the tribe.

In its second wave, the Covid-19 pandemic has made deeper inroads into Kerala’s vulnerable tribal communities, both in terms of cases and fatalities, as compared to the first wave last year. But successfully resisting the second wave, which was brought on by a highly transmissible variant of the virus, is Edamalakkudy, the first tribal hamlet in the state to get local body status in 2010.

Buried in the deep forests of the Western Ghats, Edamalakkudy, a cluster of 26 settlements populated by the Muthuvan Tribe with nearly 2500 inhabitants, has managed to remain an oasis of calm, having reported not a single case of Covid-19 since the pandemic began. Its feat is a result of tight restrictions on the entry and exit to the village by the tribal councils, high awareness within the community about the dangers of the virus and the interventions by government departments to protect the tribe.

“Right at the start of the pandemic, the tribals (after a meeting with government officials) decided that no one would enter or leave the village without permission. To bring essential food supplies, one or two persons they approve would go to the nearest town. Upon return, they would enter quarantine for 14 days,” said Dr Priya N, district medical officer, Idukki.

“On our part, before sending our staff to Edamalakkudy, we subject them to RT-PCR testing. Only those testing negative are allowed to go. So, under any circumstances, there’s no chance for social mingling (with someone potentially carrying the virus). That’s why no cases have been reported so far,” she added.

The remoteness of Edamalakkudy has also been a factor. Visitors to the village have to traverse a long forest path, serviceable solely by jeeps and extremely difficult to navigate in the rainy season. The presence of wild animals makes night travel out of the question.

The hamlet lies 18 km from Pettimudi, the nearest settlement, and 41 km from Munnar, the closest big town with a semblance of healthcare facilities.

Harindra Kumar S, range forest officer, Munnar, said, “On the request of the tribals at the start of the lockdown last year, we had closed the only motorable road from Pettimudi, ensuring that nobody gets in. We shut forest paths from Mankulam, Valparai and 9th block too from the Tamil Nadu side. Our watchers and staff who live in Edamalakkudy have also helped in spreading awareness.”

The resistance against the virus is especially remarkable for Edamalakkudy considering the fact that its residents participated in two democratic exercises in the last six months – the local body elections in December last year and the Assembly elections in April. Though the election campaigns were widely said to be responsible for Kerala’s surge in infections, in Edamalakkudy, it made no difference to the status quo.

Being a green zone has other advantages too. The primary school students in the hamlet have the rare opportunity to attend classes in person, without fear. In any case, the absence of internet connectivity would have made virtual classes impossible.

The district administration is now moving quickly to shield tribal communities from the virus by administering them vaccine. The state government has already ordered all above the age of 18 in tribal colonies to be inoculated as quickly as possible.

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