The first Ebola cases will soon emerge in the UK according to the government’s chief medical officer, who said the country should expect “a handful” of people to fall ill with the disease in coming months.
Dame Sally Davies issued her warning on Saturday following a national exercise to test Britain’s readiness for an Ebola outbreak amid growing criticism that government priorities for dealing with the threat are seriously misplaced.
Davies said: “It will not be surprising if we have spillover into this country so I would expect a handful of cases in the next few months. This vitally important exercise gave a very realistic test of how prepared the system is to deal with a case of Ebola. Today has included a variety of scenarios involving personnel from hospitals, ambulance services and local authorities around the country.”
Despite the predicted spread, Dr David Nabarro, the UN’s senior system coordinator for Ebola, told the BBC’s Up All Night on Sunday morning that he believed the disease would be “under control” in three months.
While the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announced – after chairing a simulated meeting of the emergency Cobra committee as part of the UK’s test – that the exercise had been reassuring and “extremely useful”, other politicians and scientists described government plans as futile. The eight-hour exercise involved actors simulating symptoms of Ebola with one person “collapsing” in a Gateshead shopping centre and being placed in isolation at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle upon Tyne, and was held as a preamble to the introduction of screening for the virus at large airports and terminals. But many experts have voiced serious misgivings about the introduction of screening, 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.