October 10 – Several British international terminals are to screen passengers arriving from west Africa for Ebola after a dramatic u-turn in government policy yesterday. Ministers spent the day defending their decision not to screen passengers in line with World Health Organisation advice. Then it was announced that “enhanced screening” would be introduced at Heathrow, Gatwick and the Eurostar terminal in London.
A statement from the Prime Minister’s office at 10 Downing Street said it would “offer an additional level of protection to the UK.” It said the decision was made on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies.
It said: “Further screening has been kept under review throughout this period and advice from the Chief Medical Officer today is that enhanced screening arrangements at the UK’s main ports of entry for people travelling from the affected regions – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – will offer an additional level of protection to the UK.
“Enhanced screening will initially be implemented at London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports and Eurostar terminals and will involve assessing passengers’ recent travel history, who they have been in contact with and onward travel arrangements as well as a possible medical assessment, conducted by trained medical personnel rather than Border Force staff.
“Passengers will also be given advice on what to do should they develop symptoms later.
“As the Chief Medical Officer’s advice makes clear, these measures will help to improve our ability to detect and isolate Ebola cases. However, it is important to stress that given the nature of this disease, no system could offer 100% protection from non-symptomatic cases.”
Professor Davies said: “Although the risk to the UK remains low, in view of the concern about the growing number of cases, it is right to consider what further measures could be taken, to ensure that any potential cases arriving in the UK are identified as quickly as possible.
“Rapid access to healthcare services by someone infected with Ebola is not only important for their health but also key to reducing the risk of transmission to others.”
Checks will be conducted on passengers from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea and will involve a series of questions about travel and contacts. It came as Macedonian authorities said they might have a patient with Ebola. And the condition of a nurse infected in Spain deteriorated.