Orang Asli in the dark about Covid-19, say activists

Many Orang Asli are unaware of the Covid-19 outbreak as they have limited access to the rest of the country.

PETALING JAYA: The Orang Asli communities in remote areas have remained largely unaffected by the Covid-19 panic gripping the rest of the nation as they are still in the dark about the extent of the outbreak, say activists.

“In fact, weddings are still being carried out here and there,” Tijah Yak Chopil, from the Semai tribe, said.

Adding that no cases have been reported in rural areas so far, she said there are also no education or health campaigns on the issue at villages.

“The villagers only know about the developments of the disease from social media.”

Hundreds of cases have been reported throughout the country with 12 patients receiving treatment at the intensive care unit as of last night.

But Zanisah Sani, a researcher from the Semelai community, said in her village too, the Orang Asli remained calm.

Salmiah Anai from the Temuan group at Kampung Sungai Raya in Seremban said her community only receives information through word of mouth or from WhatsApp groups and other social media platforms.

“There are absolutely no awareness campaigns here,” she said, adding that there is also a lot of confusion about the issue.

She said activities and large gatherings are still being held, with many people coming from far away to join in celebrations.

“Everything is as usual.”

Orang Asli expert Alberto Gomes said the people in the interior are mostly unaware of the virus.

“Last Sunday, I visited an Orang Asli village in Selangor,” he told FMT.

“The people knew about the spread of a ‘new disease’, but at that time the number of people infected in Malaysia was low.”

Colin Nicholas from Center for Orang Asli Concerns meanwhile welcomed the move by the Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) to ban outsiders from entering villages in the peninsula to prevent the spread of the virus.

“That is a positive, correct measure to take,” he said, adding that a lack of cases reported so far does not necessarily mean none have occurred.

He also cautioned against exposing the Orang Asli to people from affected areas, warning that they have relatively low resistance to infections.

“It could be very damaging.”

He suggested that the government use platforms such as Orang Asli radio channel Asyik fm to raise awareness about the outbreak.