Ebola is big news at the moment, and there are a lot of people worried about the potential of the disease to jump from West Africa to this country. So far I see little evidence of it doing so — there is a world of difference between the standards of public health in West Africa, and the proud pinnacle of our NHS.
However, not even Southend is immune to the fear. Some, as I say, is legitimate. Much should be assuaged with facts, figures and reason.
Ebola even featured at the full council meeting of Southend Borough Council last week, in a question asked by Conservative frontbencher Cllr Lesley Salter. As I would imagine most residents do not watch the full council meetings (No, just nutters like you -Ed), I will produce the exchange between Cllr Salter, and Labour group leader Cllr Ian Gilbert, below.
Cllr Salter began by asking:
“In the light of the global escalation of the Ebola crisis, and with an international airport on our doorstep, would the portfolio holder responsible for public health let us know what training the airport staff have been given, and whether checks are being, or going to be, made on passengers arriving there.“
Cllr Gilbert’s response followed:
“Staff from Southend airport recently participated in a multi-agency Essex-wide training event on Ebola. Prior to this, the airport team had put on public display the public health information provided to central government, on awareness of the Ebola virus, its symptoms, and the appropriate action to take should you feel that you may have been exposed. The airport had also briefed its staff, and liased with its airport partners in respect of aircraft cleaning protocols and has subsequently reviewed its actions in line with central government advice, and other airport operators’ actions.
“Enhanced screening for Ebola has already commenced at Heathrow and Gatwick, where most affected flights from the region arrive. Screening for Ebola is also due to commence at the Eurostar terminal. The decision to further extend screening to other UK ports is a UK matter. The government are continuing looking at what further action is needed, based on latest medical advice.“
Cllr Salter then asked a supplementary question:
“In your answer you said that they’ve put on public display the public health information provided. Would the portfolio holder consider providing our residents with basic guidance on what they should do if they feel at risk of exposure and are unwell themselves, or concerned about friends and family? Maybe simple things like handwashing. I was thinking along the lines of letting them know that they should not go directly to the GP or out-of-hours service, or to A&E, but stay at home and phone them for advice first.“
To which Cllr Gilbert responded:
“I think it’s very important that we actually follow the advice from the government on this. I think that if each council was drawing up its own policy, we may well end up with more confusion and perhaps mistakes being made. But I will take all the points that she raised back and discuss them with our Director of Public Health to see what further can be done.“
I, personally, think that Cllr Gilbert is exactly right, and whilst I wouldn’t want to suggest that Cllr Salter shouldn’t have asked the question (Praise where it’s due, she actually seemed to be on her game, whereas her party colleagues looked like a gaggle of shambling corpses, still shell-shocked to be out of power -Ed), her suggested advice is a little on the patronising side, and she ignores one key fact.
This I want to highlight above all else, because even more than statistics on the spread of the disease, even more than the strength of British public health, this should reassure any Southender worried about Ebola. Yes, our town has an international airport, but:
No flights at all land at Southend Airport from the affected parts of West Africa!