KUALA LUMPUR – After blocking the entrance to their village with logs, half the people of Jemeri fled into the surrounding forest in fear as the coronavirus spread in Malaysia, infecting the first indigenous ‘Orang Asli’ person.
“We are going back into the forest, to isolate ourselves and find food for ourselves,” villager and activist Bedul Chemai told Reuters by phone from Jemeri, in Malaysia’s Pahang State.
“We know how to get food from the forests and there are some things that we can plant there.”
‘Orang Asli’, original people, are among the poorest and most vulnerable in Malaysia which has the highest number of infections reported in Southeast Asia.
The first Orang Asli infection was detected last week.
A three-year-old boy from a village just outside Cameron Highlands, a popular tourist spot, tested positive for the virus, the director-general of the Department of Orang Asli Development Juli Edo told Reuters.
The village has been put under lockdown, along with another where an infection is suspected. It was unclear how the boy had become infected, Juli said.
The Orang Asli are the descendants of the earliest known inhabitants of peninsular Malaysia and number about 200,000.
As Malaysia enforced strict movement curbs this month to try to stop the spread of a virus that has infected more than 3,000 people locally and killed 50, the Orang Asli said they had been especially hard hit.
Many are struggling to find food after their small income from daily sales of vegetables, fruits and rubber have been cut off, while some fear of going into towns to buy food because of concerns of catching the virus.