Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Britain: Immigration officers at Heathrow have been shaking hands with passengers on the first day of the emergency screening measures for Ebola

Reports suggest that the screening is being carried out on an "haphazard and voluntary basis" in apparent contradiction of health advice about contact with potential carriers of the deadly virus. Travelers on connecting flights from West Africa - where the disease has killed over 4,000 people in Liberia and Sierra Leone - said that they were being given the option of being screened for symptoms of the virus rather than being obliged to undergo checks. Sorius Samura, 51, a documentary maker who had spent 10 days in Liberia making a film on the crisis, said that the British authorities did not appear to be taking the situation seriously enough. He said: "I've just come back from via Brussels and our flight was met by an airport official saying we might be screened. He even shook our hands. That's something nobody does now in Liberia and infected countries, you have to learn not to." Samura said that when passengers on his flight eventually got to the immigration desks they were given the option of filling in a questionnaire and being screened, or simply going through. He said: "Most of the people who had been on our flight from Liberia to Brussels didn't go into the screening room, they just seemed to go through to customs and presumably out of the airport. Samura opted to be screened and along with a number of other passengers was taken to one side and asked to fill in a questionnaire asking if they had any flu-like symptoms or a fever. Those who said that they did had their temperature taken. "I only filled in the questionnaire and went through the screening because I felt a sense of responsibility, having seen the effect of Ebola where I've been," he said. Clive Patterson, 32, who had been working with Samura in Liberia, was subjected to further screening in a side-room, but only because he volunteered the fact that he had been within two meters of Ebola victims. Yet even in his case the measures appeared far from strict. He said: "I was questioned a bit more than the others about my potential contact after I told them I had been working close to patients and corpses. I was told I would be monitored more over the coming days. But the thermometer I was supposed to use to do that hadn't arrived yet, so they sent me off without it and just gave me the number of a local health team to stay in touch with. It seemed a bit haphazard." Samura and Patterson said that checks were far stricter when they left Liberia and they had been expecting a similar standard of screening on arrival in Britain. "They're very on the ball there. You wash your hands all the time before you go into or exit a building and the staff at the airport are wearing masks. We should be taking this a lot more seriously than we are doing in Britain. To be honest it was a complete joke at Heathrow," said Samura.

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