LONDON (AFP) - The Ebola outbreak in west Africa poses a "very serious threat" to Britain, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Wednesday, as England's public health authority warned the virus was out of control.
Mr Hammond was to chair a meeting of Cobra, the government's crisis response committee, to assess Britain's preparations to cope with any possible outbreak of the disease.
One person in Britain has been tested for Ebola, the Department of Health (DoH) ministry confirmed, but the tests proved negative. Reports suggested he had travelled from west Africa to central England.
Health professionals have been warned to be vigilant for signs of the deadly virus. "As far as we are aware, there are no British nationals so far affected by this outbreak and certainly no cases in the UK," Mr Hammond told Sky News television.
"However, the Prime Minister does regard it as a very serious threat and I will be chairing a COBRA meeting later today to assess the situation and look at any measures that we need to take either in the UK, or in our diplomatic posts abroad in order to manage the threat.
"We are very much focused on it as a new and emerging threat which we need to deal with."
Since March, there have been 1,201 cases of Ebola and 672 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ebola can kill victims within days, causing severe fever and muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in some cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding.
Dr Brian McCloskey, director of global health at Public Health England (PHE), said the body was closely monitoring developments in west Africa.
"It's clear the outbreak is not under control," he said in a statement.
"The continuing increase in cases, especially in Sierra Leone, and the importation of a single case from Liberia to Nigeria, is a cause for concern, as it indicates the outbreak is not yet under control. We will continue to assess the situation and provide support as required.
"We have alerted UK medical practitioners about the situation in west Africa and requested they remain vigilant for unexplained illness in those who have visited the affected area."
However, he added: "The risk of a traveller going to west Africa and contracting Ebola remains very low, since Ebola is transmitted by direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person."