Asylum seekers with diphtheria had contracted the disease BEFORE arriving in Britain, Cabinet minister claims following death of migrant at Manston processing centre
- Transport Secretary Mark Harper claimed migrants had disease before arriving
- He insisted infections present an ‘extremely low risk’ to members of the public
- Comes after dozens of migrants moved from Manston to hotels across country
- Middle Eastern man in his 30s staying at Manston died in hospital last Saturday
Asylum seekers with diphtheria had contracted the disease before arriving in Britain, a Cabinet minister has claimed following the death of a migrant at the Manston processing centre.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper insisted that the infections present an ‘extremely low risk’ to the public despite migrants being moved from crowded facilities to hotels.
It comes after dozens of migrants with suspected diphtheria were removed from the immigration processing centre in Kent and taken to hotels around the country.
Concerns grew after the Home Office confirmed that the death of a migrant may have been a result of him having contracted diphtheria.
The Middle Eastern man, believed to be in his 30s, died in hospital last Saturday after entering the UK on a small boat seven days earlier, while already unwell.
While initial tests for infectious diseases were negative, a follow-up indicated that ‘diphtheria may be the cause of the illness’, the Home Office said.
Diphtheria is a highly contagious infection affecting the nose, throat and sometimes skin. The NHS says it is rare in the UK and can be treated with antibiotics and other medicines.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper (pictured) has claimed asylum seekers with diphtheria had contracted the disease before arriving in Britain
It comes after dozens of migrants with suspected diphtheria were removed from the immigration processing centre in Kent and taken to hotels around the country. Pictured: Migrants at Manston earlier this month
Mr Harper told Sky’s Sophy Ridge today: ‘On the diphtheria issue, there’s extremely low risk to the wider community, that’s a disease which of course the vaccination for which is in the standard childhood vaccination package.
‘We take the welfare of people in our care very seriously. My understanding is those cases were people who had that disease before they came to the United Kingdom.’
He insisted the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is working ‘very closely’ with the NHS ‘to make sure we look after the people who have been identified with diphtheria to make sure they get the treatment and the care they need’.
The man held at Manston died in hospital on November 19. He is believed to have entered the UK on a small boat seven days earlier.
There have now been 39 confirmed cases of the disease in asylum seekers in England this year but this is expected to rise to around 50 on Monday.
The numbers are likely to rise in the coming weeks as suspected cases are confirmed with testing. An increasing number of diphtheria cases is already being confirmed in migrants across Europe.
There have now been 39 confirmed cases of the disease in asylum seekers in England this year but this is expected to rise to around 50 on Monday. Pictured: Migrants at Manston earlier this month
Cases have now been detected in hotels across the country taken over by the Home Office to house migrants. The majority of cases are in the South East, it is understood.
Public health officials have raised concerns about the spread of the highly-contagious disease after people were moved from the facility to hotels.
According to the Sunday Times, Jim McManus, president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, said: ‘This situation could and should have been prevented and it is entirely arguable that the lack of information, co-ordination and engagement from the Home Office has made the situation far worse than it could have been.
‘It has created additional and preventable burdens on local health systems and has put both asylum seekers and potentially hotel workers at avoidable and preventable risk.
‘We want to work constructively and effectively as directors of public health with the Government for the good of everybody.
‘We offered the Home Office collaboration and our efforts were rebuffed.’
Public health officials have raised concerns about the spread of the highly-contagious disease after people were moved from the facility to hotels. Pictured: Manston processing centre
Meanwhile Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Daisy Cooper said the Home Secretary ‘must take responsibility and resign immediately’ over the ‘scandal’.
‘The UK is better than this. The Conservative Government should be ashamed of their callous complacency over the health and wellbeing of asylum seekers coming out of Manston,’ she said.
A Government spokesperson said: ‘Our thoughts remain with the family of the man who has died and all those affected by this loss.
‘Initial test results processed by a local hospital for an infectious disease were negative, but a follow-up PCR test was positive, indicating that diphtheria may be the cause of the illness. The coroner will conclude in due course.
‘We take the safety and welfare of those in our care extremely seriously and are taking all of the necessary steps following these results.’
Diphtheria vaccinations will be offered to any new arrivals at Manston, the spokeswoman said, though the facility is understood to be currently empty.
A post-mortem examination and a coroner’s investigation are ongoing.
At one point, as many as 4,000 people were being detained at Manston, which is designed to hold just 1,600, but on Tuesday Government sources said the site had been emptied.
Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Daisy Cooper (pictured) said the Home Secretary ‘must take responsibility and resign immediately’ over the ‘scandal’
New arrivals were expected to be taken to the centre, which is designed for holding people for short periods during security and identity checks before being moved to accommodation.
But some people have been held for far longer periods due to a lack of alternative accommodation.
With migrants having been moved from Manston to hotels around the country, health officials are advising that vaccines and preventative courses of antibiotics are offered to people on arrival at their new accommodation.
The UKHSA warned that accommodation settings should be considered ‘high-risk for infectious diseases’.
Dr Trish Mannes, UKHSA director for the South East, said: ‘The risk of diphtheria to the wider public remains very low, due to high uptake of the diphtheria vaccine in this country and because the infection is typically passed on through close prolonged contact with a case.
Suella Braverman (pictured) has come under fire over the dire conditions in Manston, and for failing to slow the perilous crossings of the English Channel by people in small boats.
‘In order to limit the risk of diphtheria being passed on within asylum seeker settings, UKHSA continues to recommend that individuals arriving at reception centres, and who have moved on recently, are offered a diphtheria vaccine and preventative treatment.’
Ms Braverman has come under fire over the dire conditions in Manston, and for failing to slow the perilous crossings of the English Channel by people in small boats.
This week she admitted the Government has ‘failed to control our borders’ but blamed desperate migrants and people smugglers for the overcrowding in Manston.
‘I tell you who’s at fault. It’s very clear who’s at fault. It’s the people who are breaking our rules, coming here illegally, exploiting vulnerable people and trying to reduce the generosity of the British people. That’s who’s at fault,’ she told MPs.
DIPHTHERIA: THE BASICS
Diphtheria is a highly contagious and potentially fatal infection that can affect the nose and throat, and sometimes the skin. It’s rare in the UK, but there’s a small risk of catching it while travelling in some parts of the world.
Diphtheria is rare in the UK because babies and children are routinely vaccinated against it.
The best way to avoid diphtheria while travelling is to be fully vaccinated against it.
If you’re travelling to a part of the world where diphtheria is widespread, you may need a booster vaccination if you were last vaccinated against it more than 10 years ago.
Diphtheria is found in many areas, including:
- the South Pacific
- the Middle East
- eastern Europe
- the Caribbean
Places considered to be high risk can change over time.
How diphtheria is spread
Diphtheria is highly contagious. It’s spread by coughs and sneezes, or through close contact with someone who’s infected.
You can also get it by sharing items, such as cups, cutlery, clothing or bedding, with an infected person.
Symptoms of diphtheria
Symptoms usually start 2 to 5 days after becoming infected.
The main symptoms of diphtheria are:
- a thick grey-white coating at the back of your throat
- a high temperature (fever) of 38C or above
- feeling sick
- sore throat
- swollen glands in your neck
- difficulty breathing and swallowing
If it affects your skin (cutaneous diphtheria), it can cause:
- pus-filled blisters on your legs, feet and hands
- large ulcers surrounded by red, sore-looking skin
Get urgent medical help if you have symptoms of diphtheria and:
- you’re in an area of the world where the infection is widespread
- you have recently returned from somewhere where the infection is widespread
- you have been in close contact with someone who has diphtheria
Diphtheria needs to be treated quickly in hospital to help prevent serious complications, such as breathing difficulties or heart problems.
Treatments for diphtheria
The main treatments are:
- antibiotics to kill the diphtheria bacteria
- medicines that stop the effects of the harmful substances (toxins) produced by the bacteria
- thoroughly cleaning any infected wounds if you have diphtheria affecting your skin
Treatment usually lasts 2 to 3 weeks. Any skin ulcers usually heal within 2 to 3 months, but may leave a scar.
People who have been in close contact with someone who has diphtheria may also need to take antibiotics, or may be given a dose of the diphtheria vaccination.
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