Britain is the primary destination of citizens from Ebola-infected countries leaving Africa, a new study has shown, and screening for the virus at British airports may prove less effective than screening at African airports instead.
The researchers, from St. Michael’s hospital in Toronto, Canada studied air traffic patterns and created a model to track the most common destinations of those leaving West Africa, and the likelihood of infected persons going abroad. While the results show Ghana and Senegal to be the two most popular destinations for those travelling onwards from Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, the third, and most popular nation outside of Africa, is the United Kingdom.
Britain receives nearly nine percent of this traffic, which runs to tens of thousands of travellers a month. Although the model shows the number of people within this figure actually infected with Ebola is fairly low, perhaps three a month under present circumstances, the leader of the research group has suggested it could be lower with appropriate controls.
The Times reports the comments of Kamran Khan, who said: “Exit screening at the three international airports (Conakry, Monrovia, and Freetown) in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone should allow all travellers at highest risk of exposure to ebola to be assessed with greater efficiency compared with entry screening the same passengers as they arrive in cities around the world”.
Entry screening for the United Kingdom began in earnest last week at Heathrow, through which 85 percent of those coming from affected countries will travel. The screening, which involved temperature tests and a questionnaire has been expanded today to Gatwick and will come to the Eurostar stations in London and Kent within the next week, to catch the few travellers who have flown to the African travel hub in Paris then gone onwards by train.
Travellers flying out of West Africa are already screened before flying, however the 21-day incubation period of the virus before it shows symptoms or becomes infectious means many potential cases may be missed.
The present West African Ebola outbreak has spread quicker, and killed more than any other in history. The United Nations’ World Health Organisation (WHO) last week reviewed its figures upwards, taking the present death toll to 4,500, however that is likely to rise sharply unless there are significant changes in the present situation. The WHO have said up to 10,000 new infections could be recorded a week by Christmas.