UK & World News

  • 31 July 2014, 4:01

Ebola: 'Precautions' Taken To Keep UK Safe

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said "precautionary measures" have been put in place to protect Britons from ebola, although it is "most unlikely" it could spread within the UK.

Mr Hammond was speaking after a meeting of the Government's emergency committee, Cobra, to discuss what he earlier called a "new and emerging" threat.

Doctors in Britain have been put on alert to spot symptoms of the deadly disease, which has killed more than 670 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria since February in what is the largest outbreak in history.

Infection results from direct contact with the blood, bodily fluids and tissues of infected animals or people.

After telling Sky News before the meeting that Prime Minister David Cameron regarded the disease as a "very serious threat", Mr Hammond afterwards sought to reassure the public that there was little threat.

"I would emphasise again, in terms of the UK, the issue is about the possibility of somebody who has contracted the disease in Africa getting sick here," Mr Hammond said.

"It is not about the disease spreading in the UK because we have frankly different standards of infection control procedure that would make that most unlikely."

A person from Birmingham was tested for ebola after returning from Africa, but the tests came back negative.

He was tested earlier this week after reportedly travelling from Benin in Nigeria via Paris to the Midlands.

Another man visited Charing Cross Hospital in London fearing he had the virus, but doctors decided he did not need testing. 

Dr Brian McCloskey, director of global health at Public Health England (PHE), said the risk to British travellers and workers was low, but doctors needed to be vigilant for "unexplained illnesses" in those who have returned from the affected countries.

"The continuing increase in cases, especially in Sierra Leone, and the importation of a single case from Liberia to Nigeria is a cause for concern as it indicates the outbreak is not yet under control," he said.

Those who experience symptoms should "immediately seek medical assistance", Dr McCloskey added.

Former Metropolitan Police border control officer Chris Hobbs told Sky News there were concerns among border officers over how to handle potential cases of ebola.

"First of all, there's concern about handling passports and landing cards of passengers arriving from places that may be infected with ebola," he said.

"Second is where it is deemed necessary to search, body search a passenger or their luggage.

"And the third concern is these flights from certainly Nigeria are high-risk flights in respect to drugs and many couriers will have swallowed packages containing drugs.

"That will present huge problems to border force officer in dealing with those individuals because they just have to wait for the packages to emerge and all that goes with it."

Meanwhile, British Airways, which flies to Sierra Leone and Nigeria, said in a statement it complies with guidance from local health authorities and will "continue to monitor the situation closely".

Cabin crew are advised to contact air traffic control if they see someone on board who they suspect could have the disease.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We are well-prepared to identify and deal with any potential cases of ebola, though there has never been a case in this country.

"Any patients with suspected symptoms can be diagnosed within 24 hours and they would also be isolated at a dedicated unit to keep the public safe."

In 2012, a man with Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, which is related to ebola, was flown from Glasgow Airport to London by the RAF to be treated at the Royal Free Hospital in north London.

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