(REUTERS) – The Brazilian government has banned non-indigenous people from entering tribal lands to stop the spread of coronavirus in their villages and will distribute masks, gloves, test kits and food to their communities, officials said yesterday.
The epidemic has raised fears that Brazil’s 850,000 indigenous people risk being decimated by the virus because they have no defenses against diseases brought from outside and many live in communal houses where social distancing is not possible.
So far, health authorities reported three deaths of indigenous people, including a 15-year-old youth from the vast reservation where 25,000 Yanomami live on the border with Venezuela.
The minister of Women, Family and Human Rights, Damares Alves, said the government will spend 4.7 billion reais ($904 million) through June to protect traditional communities from novel coronavirus, which also includes gypsies and descendents of runaway slaves that live in remote areas.
The government will distribute 1 million protective masks and gloves plus 6,000 test kits to indigenous tribes and provide 300,000 food baskets so they do not have to leave their lands to obtain food, she told a news conference.
“The government has suspended the entrance of people into indigenous lands,” Alves said, agreeing to a primary demand from tribal leaders in order to prevent contagion. Some tribes in northern Brazil have set up barriers to stop outsiders.
Justice Minister Sergio Moro, to whom the indigenous affairs agency Funai reports, said local law enforcement would be used to help set up barriers to protect and isolate traditional communities.
In all three cases of indigenous deaths, contagion came from outside the tribal villages, Moro said, adding that the Federal Police under his command are acting to stop illegal miners and other invaders entering indigenous reservations.
Thousands of wildcat gold miners are currently inside the Yanomami reservation, officials say.
For centuries, illnesses ranging from simple colds to smallpox and measles brought by Europeans have decimated indigenous people in the Amazon, a danger that continues to threaten tribes whose lands have been invades by miners, loggers and hunters.