UK Ebola screening announcement expected

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Media captionGeorge Osborne said any moves to screen air passengers would be taken on medical advice

A government announcement on Ebola checks for arrivals to the UK is expected later after calls to bring in screening at airports.

Ministers had ruled out such tests, saying the UK was following World Health Organisation Advice.

Temperature checks and questionnaires for arrivals from affected countries have already been introduced in the US.

Earlier this week a Spanish nurse became the first person to contract the deadly virus outside of West Africa.

The outbreak has already killed more than 3,000 people and infected more than 7,200 - mostly in West Africa.

'Tighten regulation'

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon had rejected screening at UK airports, pointing out that government policy was in line with advice from the World Health Organisation.

They have also been ruled out by the Department of Health, with a statement on its website saying: "The overall risk of Ebola to the UK remains low.

"Entry screening in the UK is not recommended by the World Health Organisation, and there are no plans to introduce entry screening for Ebola in the UK."

Earlier Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, had urged the UK to look to the US, which is screening at some airports.

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Media captionKeith Vaz: "A virus does not wait for a direct flight"

Labour MP Mr Vaz said: "Our immediate response should be to tighten regulation and introduce measures such as screenings at airports, train stations and ferry ports to ensure that this deadly disease cannot take more lives."

In the US, passengers arriving from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea will have their temperatures taken and face a questionnaire under measures announced this week by President Obama.

But speaking on BBC Radio 4's World at One, chairman of the government's Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens Prof George Griffin said temperature tests were "a very ineffectual tool".

"We know the clinical course of the disease now very well, a maximum incubation period of 21 days, and fever is only part of the clinical syndrome at the end of that period."

'Better protection'

Asked about introducing checks in Britain, the chancellor said there were already controls at the UK's airports.

"If the medical advice is we need to screen, and it might well be, then we will absolutely take that action," he added.

"We're not going to do anything that puts the British population at risk, indeed quite the opposite.

"The steps we've taken over several months now have all been designed to better protect Britain from this awful disease."

Prof David Heymann, professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said similar attempts to combat the life-threatening Sars virus in 2003 had been ineffective.

"Very few people were actually found who were infected," he added.

"In fact, there's no record of anybody in most countries having been shown to be infected with Sars when they crossed the border."

BBC political correspondent Ben Wright said Downing Street planned to make an announcement on screening.

He said there appeared to be "conflicting messages" coming from within government.

"It may be that the government feels it does have to move a bit on this to respond to public concern on Ebola," our correspondent added.

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