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No Ebola screening for arrivals to UK - Public Health England

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There are no plans to introduce Ebola screening for those arriving in the UK, Public Health England (PHE) has said.

About 3,400 people, mainly from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, have died in the current outbreak.

President Barack Obama said on Monday that the US planned to screen incoming air passengers for the virus.

But PHE said this was not recommended by the World Health Organization and would mean screening "huge numbers of low-risk people".

David Cameron is to chair the weekly meeting of the government's emergency Cobra committee on Wednesday where the UK's response to the outbreak will be discussed.

Downing Street said it was part of an "ongoing series" of meetings to co-ordinate the UK response

'Proven to be effective'

PHE said that if a case of Ebola were reported in the UK, the affected person would be isolated and protective measures would be implemented.

Dr Brian McCloskey, director of global health at PHE, said: "Our robust, well-developed and well-tested NHS systems for managing unusual infectious diseases are all active permanently, and always available and regularly tested and proven to be effective.

"The overall risk of Ebola to the UK remains low."

It comes after a Spanish nurse was diagnosed with Ebola in Madrid, making her the first person outside Africa to contract the disease.

Health officials in Madrid said three other people were also being tested for the virus, while some 52 others were being monitored.

In August, British nurse William Pooley, 29, caught Ebola while treating patients in Sierra Leone, but recovered after receiving treatment in the UK.

Professor Nick Phin, a director of PHE, told BBC Radio 4's PM programme that the case in Spain did not mean the UK was at any more risk from Ebola.

media captionJustine Greening: "We have incredibly stringent procedures here in the UK"

There are 40 flights a week arriving in the UK from three West African countries - Nigeria, Ghana and The Gambia.

British Airways recently suspended flights between Britain and Liberia and Sierra Leone owing to the "deteriorating public health situation" in the two countries.

Army medics

Downing Street said Mr Cameron had spoken to Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma to "get the latest on the situation in the country" and to discuss how £125m in UK aid was assisting efforts.

A No 10 spokesman said President Koroma said the situation continued to be "very serious".

"The prime minister said the UK would continue to do all it could to support their efforts," the spokesman added.

The UK government has announced that more than 100 British army medics will be sent to Sierra Leone to fight Ebola.

Personnel from the 22 Field Hospital have undergone extensive training in preparation for their deployment and will staff a unit specifically set up to treat medics who have caught the disease.

Armed forces minister Mark Francois said it was "critical" to give other medical workers "the comfort that if they were to become infected, they could go there and get the best medical treatment that we can provide".

image copyrightAFP
image captionMore than 100 British army medics will be sent to Sierra Leone to help fight Ebola
image copyrightEPA
image captionThey have been preparing at the Army Medical Services Training Centre near York

Passengers leaving affected countries already have their temperatures checked, but people do not become infectious until they display symptoms.

The WHO recommends that affected countries conduct exit screening on those with unexplained illness consistent with potential Ebola infection.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening said the government was continuing to keep the issue of tighter travel restrictions under review.

"Obviously the Spanish authorities are now looking at how this case happened. It doesn't change the assessment of the risk to the UK.

"But what it does show is why we're right to be working with governments as we are in Sierra Leone to help them combat this disease.

"What we need to do is get those transmission rates back under control, but until that happens we will continue to see more infections and a growing number of infections over the coming weeks."

image copyrightafp/Getty Images
image captionMore than 3,000 people have died in the current outbreak in West Africa

Professor John Oxford, a virologist at Queen Mary University, told the BBC all doctors had been written to about Ebola.

He said: "Every doctor has been warned to look out for people coming into hospitals, taking the proper case history and not letting anything slip at that stage and taking it very seriously.

"Everyone is on the look-out and that's how it should be."

He said an outbreak of the virus in the UK was unlikely, compared with West Africa.

He added: "The virus is very fragile and easily destroyed by hot water, soap and detergent.

"So in a country where the infrastructure is good, where the hygiene level is good, where every house has running chlorinated water, a virus like this will find it exceedingly difficult to make a move."

Ebola virus disease

image copyrightSPL
  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
  • Spread by body fluids, such as blood and saliva
  • Fatality rate can reach 90% - but current outbreak has mortality rate of about 70%
  • Incubation period is two to 21 days
  • There is no proven vaccine or cure
  • Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery
  • Fruit bats, a delicacy for some West Africans, are considered to be virus's natural host

Lucy Moreton, general secretary of the ISU - the union for borders, immigration and customs officials - said members were concerned about coming into contact with the virus.

She said she had spoken to a border force official who said there were no firm plans to change what was currently in place.

She said: "Nothing that is proposed by the US at this point would have detected the case they currently have.

"No amount of screening for fever before departure would have caught that.

"It's better than nothing but it's not a universal solution; it's not going to stop this spreading in the way it has.

"There are lots of other threats to world health and clearly that has to be a sensible precaution where it can be implemented.

"The risk remains very low and we have robust procedures in place at borders anyway."

More on this story

  • How not to catch Ebola