UK Ebola screening descends into ‘shambles’

Protesters claim cutbacks had led to a nurse in Spain being infected. Picture: Getty
Protesters claim cutbacks had led to a nurse in Spain being infected. Picture: Getty
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PRIME Minister David Cameron has defended the decision to introduce enhanced screening for Ebola at major airports and terminals, saying it had been taken on “medical advice”.

Questions have been raised about the checks, set to take place at Heathrow, Gatwick and Eurostar rail terminals.

A spokesman for Gatwick yesterday said the airport had not been given any instructions on how to carry out screening.

The move has also been criticised by health experts, with one describing it as a “waste of time”, while Labour MP Keith Vaz said the lack of details about the screening was “shambolic”.

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Thursday’s announcement followed confusion over whether the government would introduce the measure amid conflicting messages from Chancellor George Osborne, the Department of Health, and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.

Chairman of the home affairs select committee Mr Vaz said: “What we need very, very quickly indeed is clarity as to precisely what these proposals are.

“There is a touch of the shambolic about the way this is being handled and what is needed now is certainty.”

Professor George Griffin, chair of the government’s Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens, said he was surprised screening was being introduced. He described the tests as a “very, very blunt instrument”.

Prof Griffin said: “It is somewhat surprising after, I think, we were all led to believe that the decision was not to screen.

“Of course, one of the big things is that the US has started screening and it might have been an idea to bring things into parallel with the US.”

Mr Cameron said the government was “taking all the steps we can” to prevent an Ebola outbreak in the UK.

He added: “What we do is listen to the medical advice and we act on that and that’s why we are introducing the screening processes at the appropriate ports and airports.

“What we are focusing on is taking action right across the board to deal with this problem at source.”

The introduction of screening comes as a Briton died on 9 October in Macedonia with Ebola-like symptoms, although Public Health England said it was “unlikely” the virus was to blame.

The Foreign Office said it was working with the Macedonian government to investigate.

David Mabey, professor of communicable diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said screening at airports and terminals was a “ waste of time”.

“Firstly, there won’t be anyone coming from these [West African] countries because all direct flights have been cancelled,” he said. “Are they going to screen everyone from Brussels, Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam? Secondly, why would anyone admit they have been in contact with someone when in a hurry to get through immigration control?”

He added: “What will they do if they think they do have Ebola? Lock them up in solitary?”

Prof Mabey said the government should concentrate on increasing awareness of what people must do if they think they are at risk. Asked if he thought Ebola would reach the UK, he said: “It’s bound to happen.”

Downing Street said the as-yet-unspecified tests will target travellers from Ebola-hit West Africa – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – where the death toll has risen to nearly 4,000.

Nurse’s condition ‘serious’ as Spain admits 7 to special unit

SEVEN more people have been admitted to a Spanish hospital unit monitoring possible Ebola cases where nurse Teresa Romero, the first person to contract the deadly virus outside West Africa, remained in a serious but stable condition yesterday.

With recriminations growing over how Ms Romero became infected at the Madrid hospital, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said it was extremely unlikely the disease – which has already killed about 4,000 people in West Africa – would spread in Spain. “Our first priority is Teresa Romero – she is the only person that we know has the illness,” he said on the steps of the specially-adapted Carlos III hospital, surrounded by medical staff. A hospital spokeswoman said 14 people were under observation or being treated, including Ms Romero’s husband.

The seven new admissions included two hairdressers who had given Ms Romero a beauty treatment before she was diagnosed, and hospital staff who had treated the 44-year-old nurse after she was admitted on Monday.

All had come voluntarily to be monitored for signs of the disease – which is transmitted by direct contact with an infected person or their bodily fluids – although none of the 14 has so far tested positive.