4th Jun 2023

Ebola screenings at Heathrow to start Tuesday

  • Passengers arriving at Heathrow airport from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea will be screened for Ebola symptoms (Photo: Khairil Zhafri)

More people are dying of Ebola than previously thought. The death rate of the virus is now 70 percent, up from 50 percent, the assistant director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) said during a press conference in Geneva on Tuesday (14 October).

Bruce Aylward noted that 4,447 people have died of the disease, almost all of them in West Africa. In total there have been 8,914 cases.

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But the number of new cases can rise quickly, Aylward added, saying “a lot more people will die" if the world doesn't step up its response. In two months, 10,000 people could be infected weekly in West Africa.

Earlier the World Health Organisation had already called the pandemic “the most severe, acute health emergency seen in modern times”.

Meanwhile, screenings of travellers from West Africa started at London's Heathrow airport terminal 1 on Tuesday.

Those who arrive from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea at terminal 1 will have to fill out a questionnaire and have their temperature taken. Similar screenings will commence later this week at other terminals at airports Heathrow and Gatwick, and to the Eurostar train station which connects Brussels to London.

In his address to MPs, Hunt acknowledged that “no screening and monitoring procedure can identify 100 people of people arriving from Ebola-affected countries”.

He said it is likely that “a handful of [Ebola] cases” in the UK is likely to appear “over the next three months.”

A British virologist raised doubts about the effectiveness of the measure in The Telegraph, however. He said that people who have the flu could be mistaken for Ebola cases.

“It would not surprise me if airport screening measures mainly caught unfortunate passengers with seasonal ailments who were unlucky enough to have recently been to Africa”, Ben Neuman was quoted as saying.

London is the first European capital to start screening for ebola at arrivals from affected countries. France announced on Monday that it will take extra measures.

Meanwhile, on Thursday (16 October), EU health ministers will discuss in Brussels whether member states should take additional measures.

At the same time, in a hospital in Brussels, a person who returned from Guinea earlier this month and contracted a high fever on Monday (13 October), has been put in quarantine.

“The patient possibly has Ebola, but the chance is higher that it will turn out to be malaria”, a spokesperson for the Belgian federal public service of health told Belgian media.

In Spain, a nurse who was diagnosed with Ebola last week, “is still in a very serious condition”, said a professor of preventive medicine and public health, speaking for the government.

Professor Fernando Rodriguez Artalejo also said the outbreak is under control, El Pais reports: “Right now there is no other person in Spain who is capable of transmitting the virus other than the patient … We are in a situation of total calm.”

Governments have good reason to quell panic.

Margaret Chan, who is the director-general of the World Health Organisation, said 90 percent of the economic damage from an Ebola outbreak “comes from irrational and disorganised efforts of the public to avoid infection.”

Outside of the most effected countries in West Africa, “fear of infection has spread around the world much faster than the virus [itself]”, Chan said, according to AP.

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