When the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged, the Muthuvan community of Kerala’s Edamalakkudy tribal gram panchayat decided to follow self-isolation and ban outsiders from visiting their settlements.

Tribal settlement in Edamalakkudy, KeralaFile photo
news COVID-19 Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - 13:54

Even as the number of COVID-19 cases surged around the country in the second wave, there was one gram panchayat in Kerala that resisted the pandemic – Edamalakkudy. But after 16 months of staying safe, two people tested positive in the tribal hamlet which falls under the Munnar wildlife division in Idukki. The two who tested positive were a 40-year-old homemaker from Iruppukallukudy and a 24-year-old youth from Iddaliparakudy.

The woman was tested at the Kottayam Medical College where she was admitted for a surgery and the youth was found to be positive at a private hospital in Munnar on Tuesday, July 13. The latter had spent time at the Kottayam Medical College as a caretaker for a relative who was admitted there.

According to Adimali Tribal Development Officer (TDO) Anil Bhaskar, “The 40-year-old woman from Iruppukallukudy had undergone treatment in a hospital for Valparai in Tamil Nadu and returned to the settlement recently. Then she was admitted to the Kottayam Medical College for a surgery where she tested positive. Meanwhile, the youth has not visited Edamalakkudy for several months.”

A Health Department official said that a special medical team will be sent to Edamalakkudy on Wednesday to prevent the virus spreading. “We suspect that they both contracted the virus at the hospital. The youth hasn’t visited the tribal hamlet for the last several months, so there’s no need to worry. We will collect details of the people who interacted with the woman and isolate them. There are 30 families comprising 92 members in the Iruppukallukudy tribal settlement,” the official said.

According to officials, Edamalakkudy was an example of how a community could safeguard itself from the virus. When the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged, the Muthuvan community took some serious steps to prevent the infection in Edamalakkudy, which has 24 settlements. The tribal heads called a meeting (Oorukootam) and decided to follow self-isolation and ban outsiders from visiting the hamlets. This was implemented with the support of the Forest Department and the panchayat.

Eravikulam National Park Range Officer Job J Neriamparampil said that entry into Edamalakkudy has been restricted. “For the past several months, we are allowing only concerned government officials and tribal people from the region to enter Edamalakkudy. The tribal community has been following strict self-isolation which helped them to keep safe from the infection till now. The people who tested positive must have got the virus accidentally,” said Neriamparampil.

In the wake of the pandemic, the tribal people limited their travel outside their hamlet. “Only one or two members from each settlement go outside for any work. They follow self-quarantine for a week if they go from one settlement to another or go to the nearest town, Munnar. The traditional tribal system had worked more effectively in Edamalakkudy,” he said.

Meanwhile, there was much criticism after YouTuber Sujith Bhakthan entered the tribal gram panchayat along with Idukki MP Dean Kuriakose on June 27. After the vlogger uploaded a video of the visit on social media, the Forest Department conducted a probe into his entry into Edamalakkudy.

“There may not be any connection between the visit of the MP and the new COVID-19 cases. The MP and the YouTuber visited Societykudy at the entrance of Edamalakkudy while the positive cases were reported in other settlements. But we will look into the matter and see if there is any connection between their visit and the COVID-19 cases,” said a Forest Department official.

Read: Kerala govt teachers trek 14 km and stay in tribal village to teach students

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