A government scientific advisor has criticised David Cameron’s decision to begin screening for Ebola at UK airports as “a very, very blunt instrument”.
Professor George Griffin, chair of the Government’s advisory committee on dangerous pathogens, said he was surprised by the move, which he claimed most of the scientific community viewed as ineffective.
The Prime Minister defended his decision yesterday, insisting it was the right thing to do to “keep our own people safe”, amid suggestions the measures had been introduced for political rather than medical reasons.
See the Ebola outbreak mapped
See the Ebola outbreak mapped
1/7 25 March 2014
This outbreak of the Ebola virus first emerged in the Guéckédou region of Guinea, at a crossroads with both Liberia and Sierra Leone
2/7 31 March
On 31 March the WHO confirmed the outbreak was now international, spreading first into Liberia's northern-most Lofa region
3/7 27 May
The virus spread to Sierra Leone at the end of May - just as agencies were hoping the worst was over
4/7 27 July
In Sierra Leone the virus boomed, and then it spread to Nigeria when the Liberian diplomat Patrick Sawyer flew from Monrovia to Lagos
5/7 9 August
The Nigeria cases sparked fears around the world, and there have now been deaths in Spain and Saudi Arabia involving people who had travelled to West Africa. The numbers of cases continue to rise
6/7 17-20 September
In mid-September, Senegal confirmed its first case linked to the Ebola outbreak, a development the WHO described as a top priority emergency. Numbers of cases continued to grow exponentially in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, as experts warned they could number one million by January if not contained
7/7 8 October
Two cases of Ebola have now been reported in the US and Europe - the first times the virus has been contracted among health workers outside Africa
The new measures were announced on Thursday night, reversing the Government’s previous position, but as of yesterday, screening had not yet begun at Heathrow, Gatwick or Eurostar terminals.
“We listen to the medical advice and we act on that, and that’s why we’re introducing the screening processes at appropriate ports and airports,” said Mr Cameron.
David Mabey, professor of communicable diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the screening was a “complete waste of time”.
Ministers will join dozens of health professionals today in an eight-hour exercise at locations across the country to test Britain’s readiness for an Ebola outbreak.
Actors will play patients with symptoms of the deadly virus to test the response of emergency services, with some staff in protective equipment. A simulated meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee chaired by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt will be held as part of the exercise.
The official death toll in West Africa’s Ebola outbreak rose above 4,000 yesterday. The World Health Organisation said there had been 343 new cases in three days.
Public Health England said it was “unlikely” Ebola caused the death of a British man in Macedonia.
The man’s death led to an investigation and quarantining of a hotel in the capital Skopje but PHE said information obtained about his symptoms and travel history suggested “very low risk” of Ebola.