Briton dies ‘with Ebola symptoms’

Published: Friday 10th October 2014 by The News Editor

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A Briton has died in Macedonia with symptoms similar to Ebola, officials have said.

Medical staff in the state hospital in the capital Skopje are working to establish the cause of the man’s death, according to World Health Organisation protocols.

A spokesman for the Macedonian foreign ministry said another Briton, thought to be the dead man’s friend, was also under observation at the hospital, along with the ambulance crew that treated him.

Public Health England said it believed it was “unlikely” that the death was caused by the virus, which has claimed thousands of lives in West Africa, but investigations were continuing.

The pair travelled to Macedonia from London on October 2. The dead man was taken ill at about 3pm local time and died around two hours later, the spokesman said.

The Macedonian authorities said the dead man was 57 and his friend 72.

If confirmed it would be the first death of a UK national from Ebola, although British nurse Will Pooley was cured of the deadly virus last month.

A Foreign Office (FCO) spokesman said: “We are aware of the reports and are urgently looking into them.”

Dr Brian McCloskey, of Public Health England, said: “Public Health England is aware there are unconfirmed reports of a British national dying in Macedonia, who may have exhibited some symptoms compatible with Ebola.

“We understand Ebola to be unlikely as the cause of death but will continue to work with partners to investigate.”

The news came as Downing Street said enhanced screening for Ebola will be introduced at Heathrow and Gatwick airports and Eurostar terminals following advice from the Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies.

The tests will be introduced for passengers travelling from the main Ebola affected regions in west Africa – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – to give Britain an additional level of protection from the deadly virus.

The screening will involve assessing passengers’ recent travel history, who they have been in contact with and onward travel arrangements as well as a possible medical assessment conducted by trained medical personnel.

Contingency planning is also under way including a national exercise to make sure the country is fully prepared.

But Conservative MP Rory Stewart criticised the plans, saying it does not make sense to only carry out tests at certain airports or railway stations.

He told Channel 4 News: “If we’re moving into a situation in which we’re seriously screening for an epidemic then we need to get it right across all ports of entry.

“It doesn’t make sense to only screen limited places.”

Mr Stewart, chairman of the Defence Select Committee, said it was worrying that the West had been “distracted” by the situation in Iraq and Syria because this outbreak will set a precedent on how to deal with future epidemics, of which there will be more.

The announcement follows confusion over whether the Government would introduce screening or not, with conflicting messages coming from Chancellor George Osborne, the Department of Health and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.

Mr Osborne had said that screening would be introduced if medical experts deemed it necessary.

But the Department of Health initially insisted it had no plans for screening, while Mr Fallon said the existing Government policy was in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) advice that exit screening was more effective.

The introduction of tests follows calls for ministers to follow the lead of the United States which implemented screening at some airports.

MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, had called for screening and welcomed the news but said the Government must learn lessons from its “delay in action”.

He said: “I warmly welcome the Government’s announcement which appears to be based on advice from the Chief Medical Officer. This now places us on the same page as the USA and South Africa, which began screening in April this year.

“We need targeted, enhanced screening to reassure the public and to relieve pressure on the Border Force.

“As to whether more should have been done sooner on this matter, the time for an inquiry is not now, but we must learn lessons from this delay in action.”

Meanwhile, former foreign secretary David Miliband criticised the Western world’s slow response to the crisis in west Africa.

Mr Miliband, who is in Sierra Leone with the International Rescue Committee which he heads, called on the “big guns” of the world to lend more support.

He told Channel 4 News: “There’s no question that there’s been a tardiness, a slowness, a lateness of response.

“The international agencies led by UN agencies have all said that.

“The summer period, the first case in this country was on May 26 and really it’s only been over the last three or four weeks, two or three weeks, that there’s been the kind of mobilisation that’s necessary.

“My organisation, the International Rescue Committee, have been here for 15 years and we’ve got 200 staff in Sierra Leone, 200 in Liberia where I’ll be visiting tomorrow.

“But in the end you need the big guns of the international system as well as a enjoined and focused local government if this kind of virulent disease is to be properly attacked.”

Published: Friday 10th October 2014 by The News Editor

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