New Ebola screening measures were introduced at Heathrow airport terminal one this morning, as the government boosts measures to prevent the deadly virus from entering the UK.
Those arriving from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – the three countries suffering most from the current outbreak in West Africa – will be subject to the screening measures.
Before the end of the week, the measures will also be introduced to other terminals at Heathrow, Gatwick airport and the Eurostar.
The introduction marks a significant change in government policy over the matter – only last week, it announced that it was enough to continue with the screening currently taking place on individuals leaving the affected countries.
The World Health Organisation had said that measures in the UK were unnecessary and would result in the screening of "huge numbers of low-risk people".
But during a Commons debate yesterday, health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that new measures would be introduced because of the “deteriorating” situation in West Africa.
He added that, once in place, they would reach 89 per cent of travellers arriving from the region. A “handful” of cases could still be expected in the UK before Christmas, however.
“The advice is that having no screening procedures at those airports is proportionate to the risk now, but we are taking this precautionary approach, starting with the Heathrow,” he said.
Airports will display highly visible instructions for people from infected areas to identify themselves to health officials, and those whose circumstances mean they require screening will be identified by Border Force officers upon arrival in the UK.
Actual screening will be carried out by nurses and consultants from Public Health England. They will conduct questionnaires with travellers arriving from high risk countries to find out about their health and any previous exposure they have had to the disease. They will also take their temperature and record contact details.
Anyone showing symptoms of the disease, which include a fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding, will be taken to hospital.
There, they will have blood samples taken and tested at Public Health England's specialist laboratory for rapid testing.
If results are positive, the infected person will be transferred to an isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital in London, which has been prepared to deal with any cases of the disease. This is where William Pooley, the British nurse who contracted the disease in West Africa, was treated. Additional capacity is available in Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield.
If someone does not show symptoms of the disease but has been in a position where they could have contracted the virus, they will be screened and closely monitored for 21 days, since this is the disease's incubation period.
“If we identify through the screening and monitoring process someone who is higher risk, we will want to stay in touch with them for that period of 21 days on a daily basis to make sure that we are monitoring their temperature and that we get help to them as quickly as possible if they need it,” Hunt said during the debate.