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Ebola outbreak: UK sending 750 troops to Sierra Leone

The UK is sending 750 military personnel to Sierra Leone to help deal with the deadly Ebola outbreak, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has confirmed.

The UK will also send medical ship the RFA Argus and three helicopters. The personnel will be deployed next week.

It comes as Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was “now entirely possible that someone with Ebola will come to the UK either by one route or another”.

More than 3,800 people have died in the outbreak, mostly in West Africa.

In Sierra Leone the death toll is at least 678. Save the Children has said the rate of infection is rapidly increasing, with five new cases every hour.

There is no cure or vaccine for Ebola, which has so far infected more than 8,000 people in the worst outbreak yet.

British troops will help to establish treatment centres and a training academy, with the ship and helicopters providing support.

Volunteers pick up bodies of those who have died from Ebola in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone

It comes as:

Mr Hammond, speaking in Washington with US Secretary of State John Kerry, said military and civilian teams were already in Sierra Leone, working on constructing five new Ebola treatment facilities with 700 beds.

He said that at a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee in London – which he joined via video link – the decision was made to deploy the RFA Argus to Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, along with the three Merlin helicopters.

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It is estimated the measures will help the country treat nearly 8,800 patients over six months.

Mr Hammond said: “This disease is an unprecedented threat that knows no borders. We have to get ahead of this disease. If we get ahead of it and rise to the challenge, we can contain it and beat it.”

Philip Hammond and John Kerry urged all nations to boost their response to combat the virus

He said the UK  had committed more than $200m (£125m) to the programme in Sierra Leone.

And he urged other countries to commit not only money but more resources, including medical personnel, to lead the effort on the ground.

“We all have to do more if we are going to prevent what is currently a crisis from becoming a catastrophe,” he said.

Downing Street said the 750 troops included:

  • 250 for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Argus to take and support three helicopters, aircrew and engineers to provide transport support to medical teams and aid experts
  • More than 200 military staff to run and staff a World Health Organization-led Ebola training facility
  • 300 military personnel making up the existing UK taskforce, focusing on delivering support to the Sierra Leone government

Forty British military engineers have already travelled to the country to set up the facilities, said BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale.

Our correspondent said 100 troops had been due to travel to the country next week but they will now be joined by hundreds more.

“It shows Britain is clearly worried about this and is ramping up its efforts in the same way the US has done,” said our correspondent.

The US has pledged as many as 4,000 troops to the region.

Mr Kerry said the US and UK were “standing together” to battle the virus in West Africa.

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Airport screening

Ebola spreads through contact with the bodily fluids of someone who has the virus and the only way to stop an outbreak is to isolate those who are infected.

Earlier, US officials announced travellers from Ebola-affected countries will face increased security scrutiny at American airports.

The Department of Homeland Security has ordered agents at airports and other ports to take temperatures and question passengers.

Ebola virus disease (EVD)

  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
  • Spread by body fluids, such as blood and saliva
  • Fatality rate can reach 90% – but current outbreak has mortality rate of about 70%
  • Incubation period is two to 21 days
  • There is no proven vaccine or cure
  • Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery
  • Fruit bats, a delicacy for some West Africans, are considered to be virus’s natural host

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