Britain’s health secretary is warning that the Ebola virus will arrive in his country by Christmas, as he announced a new initiative to begin screening passengers for the deadly virus at London’s Heathrow Airport.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that passengers from at-risk countries will have temperatures taken, complete a risk questionnaire and have all of their contact details taken by government health screeners. Hunt said screening at the Gatwick Airport and at Eurostar terminals would begin within days, adding that contingency plans are in place to expand the screening to additional airports at Birmingham and Manchester if the threat worsens.
Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reported that Hunt believes that there will be a “handful” of cases in Britain by the holidays:
When pressed by Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, Mr Hunt said it was unlikely that cases would reach double figures, but admitted that the situation may change.
Speaking in the Commons, he told MPs that the public health risk in the UK “remains low” and a great deal of planning has gone into dealing with potential Ebola patients.
He added that “we are one of the best and most prepared countries in the world” in the event of an outbreak.
‘You are the best of our country’
That said, Hunt went on to warn that screening would only identify about 9 in 10 people at risk because there was no way of screening passengers arriving from infected countries by indirect routes.
As of this writing, the Ebola outbreak has claimed around 4,500 lives; there have been more than 8,900 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of the deadly virus in seven countries.
Hunt also paid tribute to the scores of British health workers who have gone to the affected areas to help combat the disease. “You are the best of our country,” he said, adding that predicting the exact number of cases was “genuinely very difficult.” He did say, however, that he did not expect cases to reach double digits in Britain over the next three months.
In recent weeks, the British government had opted not to begin screening, but that quickly changed after watching the situation deteriorate significantly in the West African nations currently grappling to control the outbreak.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has said that “vigorous steps” are being initiated to prevent the disease from reaching the United Kingdom, and he has defended government plans to begin screening measures at two of the UK’s largest airports.
‘We’re doing more than almost any other country’
Cameron also said that Britain was doing more than nearly every other country to help contain the disease and eradicate it in West Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that the epidemic is now the “most severe acute health emergency in modern times,” as the number of new cases of the disease is “rising exponentially” in the three hardest-hit countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Talking to reporters in Portsmouth, Hampshire, Cameron said screening at the Heathrow and Gatwick airports would consist of more than just filling out forms. He said it would incorporate “taking temperatures and identifying symptoms.”
“There are no direct flights from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the countries affected most, but people are coming in indirectly,” he said. “We should be trying our best to screen them and that will begin this week.”
He added: “Not only are we doing more than almost any other country in the world to deal with this problem at source in Sierra Leone and other countries, we are also taking very vigorous steps here to make sure we keep our people safe.”
In addition, Hunt said that call handlers to the National Health Service’s 111 line would be asking callers with potential symptoms to reveal recent travel history to see if they had visited West Africa.
Article Source: Ebola outbreak in Great Britain