Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced that Ebola screening will begin today at Heathrow airport in London. Later in the week, there will also be screenings at Gatwick and Eurostar terminals, however the Department of Health has estimated that 85% of all arrivals to the UK from affected countries will come through Heathrow.
How the process will work is that passengers coming from countries labelled “at risk” will have their temperature taken, complete a risk questionnaire and have their contact details recorded. Officers from the Border Force will identify passengers to be screened, allowing nurses and consultants from Public Health England to carry out the testing.
Those suspected with having Ebola will be immediately taken to hospital, with a blood sample taken to a Public Health England specialist laboratory for testing. If positive, the patient will then be taken to a specialist isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital in London, the same place that cared for the first Briton to contract Ebola, nurse William Pooley.
Passengers marked as “high-risk” due to contact with Ebola patients but showing no symptoms, will be contacted on a daily basis by Public Health England.
Although the Chief Medical Officer has said the risk to the UK is low, they do expect a “handful” of cases. Hunt himself said that it was “genuinely very difficult” to predict the exact number of cases, but does not expect the figure for the next three months to be in double figures.
A spokesman for Heathrow said the welfare of “our passengers and colleagues is always our main priority. We would like to reassure passengers that the Government assess the risk of a traveller contracting Ebola to be low.”
Hunt meanwhile, talked of the importance of fighting the outbreak in Africa: “We should remember that the international community has shown that if we act decisively we can defeat serious new infectious disease threats such as Sars and pandemic flu.
“The situation will get worse before it gets better, but we should not flinch in our resolve to defeat Ebola both for the safety of the British population and as part of our responsibility to some of the poorest countries on the planet.”