A boy’s temperature is taken using an infrared laser thermometer at the international airport in Abuja, Nigeria / Reuters

Given that no arriving passenger wears a badge announcing where their journey began, details of which travellers will be targeted are scanty

The departure boards for the airports in Monrovia, Freetown and Conakry are almost bare. Only a handful of flights take off each week: on Air France, Brussels Airlines and Royal Air Maroc.

Each airline takes the safety of crew and passengers extremely seriously, and checks every prospective traveller scrupulously for signs of illness before allowing them on board. Any sign of headaches, fatigue and vomiting will be taken as a danger sign.

Those planes are going respectively to Paris, Brussels and Casablanca - where the passengers scatter to dozens of different flights. For the government to cover every possible base to ensure that all travellers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, teams would be needed to be deployed at a dozen airports from Southampton to Aberdeen.

Instead, “enhanced screening” by trained medical personnel will be in force only at Heathrow, Gatwick and the London St Pancras railway terminus.

Given that no arriving passenger wears a badge announcing where their journey began, details of which travellers will be targeted are scanty. Taking Paris Charles de Gaulle alone: every day, tens of thousands of passengers disgorge from flights from far and wide: Tokyo, Havana and, once a week, Conakry in Guinea.

 

They then transfer to dozens of departures to other destinations, where they mingle with many other travellers. Inspector will have no way of knowing for certain, without demanding sight of everyone’s tickets and travel itinerary, who has arrived from the “danger zone”.

Interviews and temperature checks could conceivably identify that rarest of individuals: an Ebola carrier who starts a relatively short journey feeling fine and without symptoms (and therefore non-contagious) but develops them during the trip. But it is sadly more likely that the system will give “false negatives”, i.e. a green light to people who are carrying Ebola but do not yet have a fever. And it is near-certain that there will be false positives: people with a high temperature as a result of other infections, such as flu.

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What happens to an individual who arrives with a high temperature and has recently visited Africa: will they be carted off to an isolation ward while their blood is tested at Porton Down in Wiltshire? For the system to be taken seriously, that is the inevitable consequence.

More worrying than some unfortunate travellers being pointlessly hospitalised is that the British public will be given a false sense of security. Some people will infer from the introduction of the checks that no-one will be able get into the UK with Ebola, whereas in fact the medical shield is extremely porous. The plan is a half-baked, politically inspired response that does nothing of substance to protect the nation.

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