UK

Britain Dismisses Call For Airport Screening As Ebola Pressure Mounts

09/10/2014 07:44 BST | Updated 09/10/2014 16:59 BST

Ebola Symptoms: Why No One In Britain Clearly Has The Disease Yet

Pressure is mounting on the government to enact tough screening measures at UK airports for signs of the deadly Ebola virus, but virologists have advised such procedures would be useless.

It comes as Australian health officials announced that a Red Cross nurse from Queensland, 57-year-old Sue Ellen Kovack, who had worked in Sierra Leone was admitted to hospital in Cairns with a "low-grade" fever. Her condition is currently being assessed.

Washington has announced plans to introduce screening for the deadly virus at some of its major airports, including New York, Dulles and Chicago.

ebola airport

A Nigerian port official uses a thermometer to screen Muslim pilgrims for Ebola at the Hajj camp before boarding a plane for Saudi Arabia

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned that it was "entirely possible" that the deadly virus could reach Britain and said the best form of prevention was to "play our part in making sure that the disease is contained in west Africa."

On Thursday morning, the Daily Mail stepped up calls for screenings with a front page asking ministers why they had not been put in place.

MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the influential Home Affairs Select Committee, called for tests at airports, train stations and ports as well as greater support for immigration officers to make sure they have the training to deal with the outbreak.

He said: "Our immediate response should be to tighten regulation and introduce measures such as screenings at airports, train stations and ferry ports to ensure that this deadly disease cannot take more lives.

"Immigration officers are not trained health professionals. Greater support must be offered to ensure that they are equipped to deal with this outbreak to prevent it reaching the UK."

On Wednesday, Home Office minister Norman Baker said the UK needed to "consider whether existing controls are adequate."

According to a report published by Boston's Northeastern University, Britain has a 50% chance of an outbreak by the end of October, and is the sixth most likely country to have an Ebola outbreak resulting from a sick passenger on a flight to the country. It is the second most 'at-risk' country in Europe, with France being given a 75% chance of an outbreak, and the second most 'at-risk' country in the world.

Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, told HuffPost UK. "As a colonising power, we still maintain major links to these countries."

But he rejected the effectiveness of screening at airports. "Screening people at airports, for example taking temperatures using body scanners, would be a massive cost and the money would be far better spent elsewhere, improving the infrastructure in the countries where it is spreading. That is far more likely to stop the disease than the huge spend required to screen people here."

Other public health experts have pointed out that testing people's temperatures was not fool-proof, as anyone who had taken an ibruprofen could lower their temperature and pass onto the flight.

Around 750 British military personnel are to be deployed to the Ebola-affected region followed a meeting of the Government's Cobra emergency committee chaired by the Prime Minister.

Medical ship RFA Argus will travel to Sierra Leone along with three helicopters, aircrew and engineers to provide transport and support to medical teams and aid workers.

The announcement came as the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States, Thomas Eric Duncan, died in a Texas hospital and the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that sporadic cases in Europe are "unavoidable".

Authorities in Spain are dealing with the first case of the disease transmitted outside west Africa, in a hospital nurse who treated a priest flown to Madrid for treatment.

In the States, several politicians and key figures have called for flights from west Africa to be suspended altogether, a difficult measure to enact in Britain where most travellers will have changed planes in Europe.

A video from mogul Donald Trump, calling for the US to stop all flights from the region has gone viral, with almost 30,000 shares.