Indigenous groups across South America are blockading their villages and retreating into their traditional forest and mountain homes in a bid to escape the potentially cataclysmic threat of coronavirus.
In recent days, as the number of cases in South America has risen to almost 8,000 – with many more cases likely to be unreported – indigenous groups in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have all started taking steps to protect themselves from what they call a historic danger.
“Coronavirus could wipe us out,” warned Ianucula Kaiabi, an indigenous leader in Brazil’s Xingu national park, a sprawling sanctuary on the southern fringes of the Amazon that is home to about 6,000 people from 16 different tribes.
With Brazil’s death toll hitting 136 on Sunday, Xingu leaders have been sealing off roads into their reserve, which is almost the size of Belgium, and urging local residents to leave only in emergencies.
Further north, on Brazil’s Amazon border with Colombia and Venezuela, the country’s most indigenous municipality, São Gabriel da Cachoeira, has reportedly been placed in total lockdown, with all flights and boat traffic suspended.
“It’s an extremely sensitive region,” Marivelton Baré, the president of the River Negro Indigenous Federation, said of the isolated district, which lies three days from Manaus by boat. “The health system is precarious and we have isolated tribes here.”
Sofia Mendonça, a public health physician who works in the Xingu, said acute, highly infectious diseases such as measles, smallpox and flu viruses had a long track record of “decimating” indigenous communities and were a particular threat to Brazil’s more than 100 isolated groups. [Continue reading…]