By Shaun Gibson : @ShaunyNews
The UK should expect ebola cases within months, the country’s chief medical officer has warned. Sally Davies said: “The big problem is in West Africa where the doubling rate is every four weeks and it really is going up and up, so it will not be surprising if we have spillover into this country. “I would expect a handful of cases over the next few months.” The virus has already claimed more than 4,000 lives in West Africa. But after a nationwide drill to test Britain’s readiness for an outbreak, the Health Secretary said he was “doubly reassured” the NHS could cope.
Jeremy Hunt said the eight-hour simulation at locations across the country proved “robust plans” were in place if the disease reached the UK. Ministers joined dozens of medical professionals, some of whom wore protective clothing, as actors simulated symptoms of the deadly virus. The exercise, which was ordered by David Cameron as part of the UK’s contingency plan, involved staff from hospitals, the ambulance service and Public Health England. One scenario saw a patient collapse at Gateshead shopping centre.
They were assessed and placed in isolation at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle. Samples were sent for testing at the Porton Down science laboratories in Wiltshire and, after returning an Ebola diagnosis, the patient was transferred to the Royal Free in London. In a separate case, a patient arrived at Hillingdon walk-in centre in London with flu-like symptoms, having recently returned from West Africa. Mr Hunt chaired a fake COBRA meeting as part of the exercise.
The president of the World Bank, Jim Kim, admitted on Wednesday that the international community had “failed miserably” in its response to the Ebola virus that has killed more than 3,800 people in west Africa and warned that the crisis now affecting Spain and the US was going to get much worse. Amid signs yesterday that western governments were being forced to take the risks of a global pandemic more seriously, Kim said he wanted them to back a new $20bn (£12bn) global health fund that would be able to react instantly to emergencies. “It’s late. It’s really late,”
He said: “This is an extremely useful exercise and I feel doubly reassured that we have robust plans in place in the event that we get an ebola case in the UK. “We will evaluate what went well and what we need to improve. “This exercise is just one small part of our ongoing contingency plans for ebola. It builds on activity we routinely practise for a wide variety of illnesses and other emergencies.” Meanwhile, aid ship RFA Argus, which will travel to Sierra Leone next week to help fight the outbreak, has arrived in Falmouth, Cornwall.
It will carry medical supplies, three Merlin helicopters, aircrew and engineers. Its deployment comes as the Prime Minister was forced to defend the decision to introduce enhanced screening for the virus at major points of entry, saying it had been taken on “medical advice”. The move was criticised by health experts, with one describing it as a “complete waste of time”. As Britain’s response stepped up, a director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claimed it was impossible to reduce the risk to the American public to zero.
There is currently no effective vaccine for ebola, but Russia announced on Saturday that it expected to produce three within the next six months. In Spain, three more people are under observation in a Madrid hospital, taking the number currently being monitored for ebola symptoms to 16. The first person known to have contracted the disease outside West Africa during the current outbreak, 44-year-old Spanish nurse Teresa Romero, remains in a stable condition.
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