Defending airport screening, Dame Sally Davies said it was a “blunt instrument” but would save lives. She rejected criticism in a letter circulated to doctors that screening was a “political gesture”.
Health officials, meanwhile, moved to reassure the public over the UK’s readiness for dealing with Ebola as more people were monitored for the deadly disease in Spain.
A national eight-hour exercise to test Britain’s readiness for an outbreak of the virus took place at undisclosed locations across the UK yesterday. Actors simulated symptoms of the deadly disease while ministers joined dozens of medical professionals from hospitals, the ambulance service and public health officials as they played through scenarios.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt insisted he was “doubly reassured” the UK was ready if the disease reached the country following the exercise.
It came as three more people were put under observation at the Carlos III hospital in Madrid, boosting the number being monitored there for Ebola symptoms to 16.
The exercise was ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron as part of the UK’s contingency plan against Ebola, which has killed more than 4,000 people in West Africa.
Cameron has been forced to defend the decision to introduce enhanced screening for the virus at major airports and travel terminals, saying it had been taken on “medical advice”.
The United States has also stepped up efforts to halt the spread of the virus, introducing teams of officials armed with thermal guns and questionnaires to screen travellers at JFK airport in New York.
Questions have been raised about checks taking place at Heathrow and Gatwick airports and Eurostar rail terminals, with a spokesman for Gatwick saying the airport had not been given any instructions about how the screening should be carried out. The move was also criticised by health experts. David Mabey, professor of communicable diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the screening was a “complete waste of time”.
Labour MP Keith Vaz said the lack of precise information about the screening was “shambolic”.
Cameron said: “What we do is listen to the medical advice and we act on that advice, 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.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “The public can be assured we have been planning our response to an Ebola case in the UK for many months.”
Last night, Macedonian authorities ruled out the Ebola virus as the cause of death of a British man in the capital city of Skopje.