Ebola screenings at London’s Heathrow Airport are optional for travelers arriving from high risk countries.
On Monday evening U.K. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who ordered the health checks, warned that Britain can expect up to 10 cases of Ebola by Christmas. He said all passengers from West Africa must be checked “to make our country safe.”
“This will allow potential Ebola virus carriers arriving in the U.K. to be identified, tracked and given rapid access to expert health advice should they develop symptoms,” Hunt said of the screenings. “Passengers will have their temperature taken and complete a questionnaire asking about their current health, recent travel history and whether they might be at potential risk through contact with Ebola patients.”
But the checks, which began today, aren’t mandatory, leading travelers to tell the MailOnline the process is a “complete joke.” Passengers in Terminal One said they weren’t checked at all and some had to seek out medical staff to volunteer for checks.
Sorious Samura and Clive Patterson, who both traveled from Liberia to Heathrow Tuesday, told the MailOnline that they to volunteered to be screened. Both men were in Liberia working on an Ebola documentary.
“We have been working, interviewing, people who are in the thick of it,” Patterson, 32, said. “If you are going to make the effort and take this measure, you might as well make it compulsory. I could have Ebola and I could have walked straight through.”
“It was disappointing,” Samura said. “I think in a situation like this, given the fear that is being spread, I would expect a mandatory screening. I was told it is up to you if you want to be screen or not.”
Gina Jere, 50, who flew in from The Gambia via Brussels, said she was surprised that she wasn’t screened at all. She said health screenings were much more stringent in West Africa and all her fellow passengers had been screened in The Gambia.
“I think I should have been screened,” she said.
U.K. officials say they plan to add the non-compulsory screenings to Gatwick and Eurostar airports later this week.
Officials at five U.S. gateway airports, including John F. Kennedy International Airport, have mandatory temperature screenings and health questions for passengers arriving from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea.
Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons / Max Froumentin, Wikipedia