Britain can handle Ebola virus threat, says foreign secretary

Sarah Spickernell
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Philip Hammond said the virus does not pose a "direct threat" to the UK (Source: Reuters)
Today, foreign secretary Philip Hammond held an emergency cobra meeting with ministers and health advisers to discuss the threat of Ebola to the UK.
The current epidemic of the disease, described as the worst in history, has already killed over 670 people in West Africa where it has been spreading since February. It has an estimated mortality rate of between 60 and 90 per cent, and there is currently no known vaccine to protect against it.
At the meeting, Hammond said that the disease did not pose a “direct threat” to the UK, and that currently there were no reported cases in the country.
However, he added that although the UK was well equipped to deal with an outbreak should it arrive in Britain, it was necessary to consider what precautions, if any, should to be taken to avoid such an event arising.
He said that the threat came from the possibility of someone bringing the virus into the UK after contracting it abroad, but noted that there was very little chance of it actually spreading if it did find its way here.
"In terms of the UK, the issue is about the possibility of somebody who has contracted the disease in West Africa getting sick here,” he said. “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."
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who was also at the meeting, reiterated this view that the UK could cope in the event of an infection. He said that the experience of the NHS staff meant that "the risk of this disease spreading fast in the UK is much lower, because of that expertise".
“We are very confident that we have very good people in the NHS, very experienced people who will be ready to deal with anything, if it were to arrive in the UK,” he said.
Both the World Health Organisation and the UK Foreign Office have advised against travel to Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone – the three countries that have been afflicted with the disease so far – in order to minimise the chance of it arriving in Britain.
Hammond, who took up the role of foreign secretary last week, said after the meeting that he was working with his American and French counterparts to find a way of tackling the outbreak at its source.

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