by Dayo Olaniyan
The Ebola virus, which has already killed more than 670 people across West Africa, has now been called ‘a potential threat’ by the UK Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond. He spoke to the BBC, ‘At the moment we don’t think any British nationals [abroad] are affected and we are fairly confident there are no cases in the UK. But it is a threat, it is something we need to respond to and we will be doing so through the Cobra mechanism.”
Experts from Public Health England (PHE) are also meeting with representatives from the UK Border Agency and individual airports to ensure that they are watchful for signs and know what to do in case “the worst happens”.
These urgent warnings come based on the questions as to how Patrick Sawyer, the now named Liberian government official who had lost a sister to Ebola and started showing symptoms, was permitted to board several flights.
Despite the vomiting and suffering from diarrhoea, he flew from Liberia, stopped over in Ghana, changed planes in Togo before finally dying in Nigeria. Experts have warned that he could have passed the disease to anyone who had sat next to him or sat on the same toilets he did.
Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Mark Walport told the Daily Telegraph of the increased threat of Ebola since the world was now ‘interconnected’.
‘The most dangerous infections of humans have always been those which have emerged from other species. They are a potential major threat to us. Emerging infectious diseases is a global grand challenge. We were lucky with Sars. But we have to do the best horizon scanning.’
Dr Brian McCloskey, director of global health at Public Health England, said the outbreak was “It is important to stress that no cases of imported Ebola have ever been reported in the UK and the risk of a traveller going to West Africa and contracting Ebola remains very low since Ebola is transmitted by direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person.
But at the same time it’s false to say that border controls can stop infections from spreading- you can be not showing symptoms or even travel when you have symptoms and keep them hidden, as has happened with doctors in the past.”
Professor Heymann, who worked in sub-Saharan Africa during the first ever Ebola outbreaks in the 70s and 80s said the UK was “well prepared” to deal with new infectious diseases right down ‘from the Prime minister to local authorities.”
“We should be watching out for this, as we should be watching out for all emerging infections. The UK and other EU countries are on constant alert, and many exercises are carried out to know what to do if Ebola does emerge. The UK has prepared for this scenario.”