London: London’s Heathrow airport began Tuesday applying new precautionary measures to detect possible cases of Ebola virus disease in passengers arriving from West African countries affected by the deadly virus.
An airport spokesman told Efe news agency that the new measures went into effect Tuesday morning and were being applied by the staff of Public Health England (PHE), the authority under Britain’s Public Health Service (PHS) that manages medical tests.
The measures were announced by the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, despite the fact that the British government had ruled them out last week, considering the risk currently posed by the virus to the country to be “low”.
Nurses and medical specialists from the health agency have been instructed to take the temperature of travellers coming from areas considered at risk, such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea Conakry.
These passengers must also complete a questionnaire that asks about their current health status, their recent travel history and whether they might be a potential risk through having had contact with Ebola patients.
It is expected that the controls will be implemented at Gatwick Airport and the Eurostar train terminal by the end of next week.
Although there are no direct flights from the main West African countries most affected by the virus, indirect routes across Europe exist.
In addition, those who pose a risk but show no symptoms of the disease are given the phone number of health authorities they should call if any of the disease’s symptoms develop during the 21-day incubation period.
Health authorities have admitted that while it would not be possible to identify all travellers from the three most affected African countries (Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea Conakry), it is estimated that 89 percent will undergo these tests.
The screening measures might also be implemented in the northern cities of Birmingham and Manchester if the risk level should increase, they said.
Britain, which has earmarked 125 million pounds ($199.4 million) to combat the virus, has installed panels showing information on airport gates, asking travellers to inform the authorities if they have been in the affected region over the previous 21 days.
Authorities have drawn up contingency plans to take those who may be infected with Ebola to the Royal Free Hospital in North London, specialising in the treatment of hazardous and infectious diseases.