COVID-19 is not any more a disease that is restricted to largely crowded urban areas. The virus has managed to penetrate into Thengumarahada village, which is located inside the Sathiyamangalam Tiger Reserve. Even though the village on the banks of the Mayar River is in the Kotagiri taluk, it can be reached through a 25-km forest path through Bhavanisagar in Erode district.

There are around 2,000 people in the village and around 40 per cent of them are tribals. While the majority of them Irulas, around 16 families of Kurumbas also reside there. Agriculture being the main occupation of the villagers, they usually visit Bhavanisagar, Sathiyamangalam and Mettupalayam to buy fertiliser, sell their produce and also buy groceries.

“Even though we chlorinate the drinking water and provide it to the residents, people while working in the agricultural field tend to drink the water from Mayar that through Masinakudi and reaches our village. Usually, during the summer season from April to June, people here are affected by cold and fever. This time too, we thought that was the case. However, in the tests taken on 14th April, 25 people tested positive for Covid-19. Another 16 people have tested positive for the virus on Saturday,” said a staff at the panchayat office.

“We are clueless how the people got infected. Some of the villages went to a temple festival in Masinagudi on April 26-27. However, we are not sure if they could have affected there as most of them who went to the festival tested negative. Only our relatives are allowed into the village as tourists have also been banned after Covid-19 started spreading last year. All of them have only mild cold and fever and there is no sign of tiredness, which is usually associated with Covid-19. Even a 70-year-old who was infected has recovered,” he added.

Out of the 25 patients who tested positive earlier, three people have been sent to a private school in Kothagiri, which is about 100-km away, for treatment and the rest of them were asked to be in home quarantine. Around five to six people who tested positive on Saturday would be taken there, said sources. To reach Kothagiri, the patients have to cross Mayar which is about 200 metre, then reach Parisalthurai where there is a bus shelter. From there, they reach Kothagiri through Bhavanisagar and Mettupalayam. “As the water is not too deep, the authorities said the vehicle can come inside the village to pick up the patients. We have asked the people not to go out of the village unnecessarily,” said the panchayat staff.

However, the long-time demand of the villagers is to build a bridge across the Mayar so that travel can be made easy for them. “The proposal has been stalled by the Forest department for a very long time. As this time, K Ramachandran, Minister of Forests, is from The Nilgiris district, we are hopeful that the bridge will be built under this government,” said Irudhaiyaraj, former Panchayat President.

Dr Arun Prasad, who is working in the Primary Health Centre in the village for the last one year, has been helping the patients to cross the Mayar river and take them to Kothagiri. He also encouraged villagers to take vaccines and many people above 45 years of age have been vaccinated.

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