News story

PHE adjusts screening measures as risk posed by Ebola epidemic declines

Public Health England (PHE) is adjusting its Ebola screening arrangements as the risk to the UK from the outbreak in West Africa declines.

Ebola screening interview

The latest risk assessment determined that the likelihood of further Ebola virus disease (EVD) cases being imported into the UK is very low and the risk of transmission occurring within the community in the UK is negligible due to the range of robust measures that have been put in place.

Under the new arrangements, on-site screening teams will continue to be based at Heathrow and Gatwick airports, where more than 90% of people from the affected countries arrive. Birmingham and Manchester airports and the St Pancras Eurostar terminal will move to the off-site telephone screening and risk assessment arrangements already in place at all other ports of entry to the UK.

At Heathrow and Gatwick, UK Border Force staff will continue to work with PHE to identify staff registered with the ‘PHE returning workers scheme’ who may have been at higher risk of being exposed to the Ebola virus and refer them for screening. Other passengers at lower risk coming through these airports will be asked to self-refer for screening.

At all other ports, Border Force staff will collect information from passengers coming into the UK from an affected country which will be given to PHE for a screening risk assessment to be carried out by telephone.

Professor Paul Cosford, PHE’s Director for Health Protection, said:

PHE will continue to screen and subsequently monitor high-risk returning workers until all 3 affected countries are jointly confirmed free of community transmission.

The risk of Ebola transmission to the UK from West Africa is now significantly lower than when the screening arrangements were originally implemented in October 2014. In line with the revised risk assessments, passengers who are travelling from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, and are not high-risk returning workers, will now be asked to self-refer for screening.

The risk of further Ebola cases being imported to the UK is now very low and continues to decrease due to the considerable decline in the scale of the epidemic in West Africa, the efforts of the global response to control the virus’ spread, the control measures in place in West Africa and the low number of people entering the UK from affected areas.

Fewer healthcare workers returning from West Africa have had contact with Ebola cases, greatly lessening their risk of contracting the disease or bringing it back to the UK.

PHE continues to proactively monitor the risks from Ebola to the UK population and we will do so until the epidemic is over in all the affected countries.

We are maintaining a high level of protection against Ebola by adapting our response to the current situation. These changes will ensure primarily safe, but also focused and efficient delivery of the screening programme.

PHE remains committed to supporting Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea until the outbreak is declared fully over.

Since the start of the outbreak (as at 5 July 2015), PHE has screened 9,785 people at the border, tested 257 people for Ebola and monitored 610 individuals who have returned from West Africa. In addition, over 150 PHE staff have deployed to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia to date.

Birmingham, Manchester and London St Pancras PHE port screening management teams have produced contingency plans to rapidly re-establish screening operations should that be required.

Published 23 July 2015