Ebola: UK border staff ‘unprepared’ says union leader

31 July 2014 Last updated at 04:20
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Ebola: UK border staff ‘unprepared’ says union leader

Border, immigration and customs staff feel unprepared to deal with people coming to the UK with possible cases of the Ebola virus, a union leader says.

Immigration Service Union general secretary Lucy Moreton said her members needed more information on the threat.

Almost 700 people have died since the first case was detected in west Africa in February.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said the UK government is taking the current outbreak “very seriously”.
‘No guidance’

Mrs Moreton said: “Members are very concerned. They serve on the front line; they are the first point of contact usually for people coming off an aircraft and the concern is what do they do if they’re confronted with someone that doesn’t appear well who appears at the border.

“There is no health facility at the border, there is no containment facility, and until extremely recently there has been no guidance issued to staff at all as to what they should do,” she said on BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight.

“They are phoning us up and asking ‘what are we supposed to do, how do we spot this, how do we protect ourselves?’, and we can’t answer that for them just now.”

Mr Hammond said earlier the UK’s health services had the experience to deal with the threat posed by the Ebola virus.

He said ministers had discussed what precautionary measures could be taken if any UK nationals in west Africa became infected.

The threat to Britain came from someone contracting the disease abroad and becoming unwell back in the UK, he added.

“It is not about the disease spreading in the UK because we have frankly different standards of infection control procedures that would make that most unlikely,” he said.
Negative test

After chairing a meeting of emergency committee Cobra, Mr Hammond said ministers had discussed what additional measures the UK could take to help control the outbreak.

But the foreign secretary said the disease had not yet “directly” affected the UK.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who was also at the meeting, said the experience of NHS staff meant “the risk of this disease spreading fast in the UK is much lower, because of that expertise”.
Aid worker spraying disinfectant outside a hospital in Liberia The current Ebola outbreak has killed almost 700 people

Several west African airlines have now stopped flying to Liberia and Sierra Leone amid concerns about the spread of the disease to those countries from Guinea.

The move comes after an infected American man of Liberian descent was found to have flown from Liberia to Nigeria last week. He developed symptoms during the flight.

All schools in Liberia have been shut down to try to stop the spread of the disease and some communities have been placed into quarantine.

Earlier this month Public Health England issued an alert to UK doctors to be aware of Ebola symptoms.

Neither the World Health Organization nor the UK Foreign Office are recommending any travel restrictions to Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone.

The Department of Health said a man had been tested for Ebola in Birmingham but these proved negative.

Ebola kills up to 90% of those infected but patients have a better chance of survival if they receive early treatment.

The outbreak – the world’s deadliest to date – was first reported in Guinea in February. It then spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

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