Britain began screening passengers arriving at London’s busiest airport from West Africa for signs of the deadly Ebola virus on Tuesday.
Health Minister Jeremy Hunt said on Monday Britain could expect to see “a handful” of Ebola cases over the next three months, partly due to its status as a popular travel destination.
The Ebola outbreak, the worst on record, has killed more than 4,000 people, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
The screening process at London Heathrow will involve passengers who have traveled to the affected area filling out questionnaires to discover any possible exposure to the virus and undertaking temperature checks if necessary.
While there are no direct flights into Britain from the region, many passengers travel to London using indirect flights via other transport hubs. Hunt said the screening was expected to reach 89% of those arriving from the affected areas.
By the end of next week the program will be extended to London’s Gatwick airport and the Eurostar rail link to Europe.
Anyone found to have recent exposure to the virus, or who displays symptoms, will undergo a clinical assessment and be transferred to hospital if necessary, the government said.
Some public health officials have raised doubts about the effectiveness of border screening given that the virus, which causes fever and bleeding, may not display symptoms during an incubation period that can last up to 21 days.
Last week the chairman of Public Health England, the government body that deals with protection against infectious diseases, warned screening could create a false sense of security.
A Spanish nurse last week became the first person outside Africa known to have caught Ebola. On Sunday a U.S. health worker was confirmed as having caught the virus from a Liberian man being treated in Texas.
The United States has begun a similar screening process at New York’s JFK airport and four other major U.S. airports will begin screening later this week.