Exercise to test Ebola readiness

Published: Saturday 11th October 2014 by The News Editor

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A national exercise to test Britain’s readiness for an Ebola outbreak will take place today.

Government ministers will join dozens of medical professionals from hospitals, the ambulance service and Public Health England for the eight-hour exercise in locations across the country.

Actors will simulate symptoms of the deadly virus to test the response of emergency services, while some staff will wear personal protective equipment.

A simulated meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee will also be held, chaired by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The exercise was ordered by David Cameron as part of the UK’s contingency plan against Ebola, which has killed more than 4,000 people in West Africa.

It comes after the Prime Minister was forced to defend the decision to introduce enhanced screening for the virus at major airports and terminals, saying it had been taken on “medical advice”.

Questions have been raised about the checks, which are to take place at Heathrow, Gatwick and Eurostar rail terminals, with a spokesman for Gatwick saying that the airport had not been given any instructions about how the screening should be carried out.

The move was also criticised by health experts, with one describing it as a “complete waste of time”, while Labour MP Keith Vaz said the lack of precise information available about the screening was “shambolic”.

Mr Cameron said : “What we do is listen to the medical advice and we act on that advice, and that’s why we are introducing the screening processes at the appropriate ports and airports.

“What we are focusing on as a country is taking action right across the board to deal with this problem at source.”

The Department of Health (DoH) has not revealed the locations of today’s exercise.

A spokeswoman: “The public can be assured that we have been planning our response to an Ebola case in the UK for many months now since the outbreak started in West Africa. It is vital that we test these plans in as realistic a situation as possible – with real people.

“That will include a full COBR meeting chaired by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to assess the outcome and learn any wider resilience lessons.

“It is important to remember that the overall risk to the public in the UK continues to be very low, and the UK has some of the best public health protection systems in the world with well-developed and well-tested systems for managing infectious disease.”

A Number 10 spokeswoman said the decision to introduce enhanced screening for Ebola was based on advice from the Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies.

But David Mabey, professor of communicable diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the screening was a “complete waste of time”.

“There won’t be anyone coming from these (West African) countries because all direct flights have been cancelled,” he said.

“Are they going to screen everyone from Brussels, Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam? That would lead to a lot of delays and disruption.”

Published: Saturday 11th October 2014 by The News Editor

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