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Ministers to join national exercise to test UK readiness for Ebola outbreak

The UK is about to embark on a national exercise to test the ability of the country’s relevant authorities to deal with a potential Ebola virus outbreak

Ahram Online, Saturday 11 Oct 2014
A member of the U.S army medical staff works in the newly constructed Ebola treatment centre in Bongcounty, on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, Tuesday Oct. 7, 2014 (Photo: AP)

A national exercise is about to be held to test the UK's readiness for a potential Ebola outbreak.

Government ministers are scheduled to join dozens of medical professionals and the ambulance service, with actors simulating symptoms of the deadly virus.

Some of the participants will wear protective gear for the eight-hour drill in a number of locations across the country.

Meanwhile, a simulated meeting of the government's COBRA emergency committee will also be held, chaired by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The UK's Department of Health has not revealed the locations of the exercise. It said it has been planning its response to an Ebola outbreak in the UK "for many months now."

The exercise has been ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron amid international efforts to respond to the deadly virus.

While the government reiterated that the chances of an Ebola outbreak in the UK are low, it said the exercise is as part of the UK's contingency planning against Ebola, which has killed more than 4,000 people in West African countries.

The exercise comes after Cameron was forced to defend the decision to introduce “enhanced screening for the virus at major points of entry.”

He said: "What we do is listen to the medical advice and we act on that advice, and that's why we are introducing the screening processes at the appropriate ports and airports.

"What we are focusing on as a country is taking action right across the board to deal with this problem at source," Cameron added

Questions have been raised about the checks, with a spokesman for Gatwick Airport saying the airport had not been given any instructions about how the screening should be carried out.

The move was also criticised by health experts as a “complete waste of time” while opposition Labour MP Keith Vaz considered what he called a “lack of precise information” as "shambolic."

More than 750 military personnel and the medical ship the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Argus, are being sent to West Africa to help in efforts to contain the outbreak.

RFA Argus, which has a fully-equipped hospital, including critical care and high-dependency units, is being loaded before it sails to Sierra Leone within few days.

On 23 September, more than 40 military personnel and humanitarian staff were sent to Sierra Leone to oversee the construction of the UK’s medical facility and assist with the UK’s response.

They are there to spearhead the UK’s £100 million mission to contain and control the virus outbreak.

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