The UK should expect a “handful” of Ebola cases in the coming months, the chief medical officer has said, according to a BBC report.
Defending a screening programme due to start at key airports and stations, Dame Sally Davies said it was a “blunt instrument” but would save lives.
She rejected criticism in a leaked email circulated to doctors that the screening was a “political gesture”.
The UK held exercises earlier to test its response to an outbreak, as the US began screening at major airports.
Ebola has killed more than 4,000 people worldwide, and a UN expert has said the world will live with it “forever” unless global action stops the virus.
Dame Sally, England’s chief medical officer and chief medical adviser to the UK government, said any cases in Britain would be “spill-over” from West Africa.
She said the screening was “unlikely” to pick up many cases, “if any”. But she stressed the “great advantage” would be that people would be alerted to what symptoms to look for and what to do if they fell ill.
This would reduce their chances of dying and of spreading the virus to others, she said.
Passenger screening, to be introduced at Heathrow and Gatwick airports and Eurostar terminals next week, will include the assessment of passengers’ travel history and a “possible medical assessment”.
The Department of Health said further details would be announced next week before the measures came into effect.
In an email seen by the BBC, a senior consultant involved in the programme said he believed the UK screening was “purely a political gesture, unlikely to provide public health benefits”.
BBC political correspondent Carole Walker said she had spoken to another consultant, also involved in the programme, who had questioned whether someone wanting to enter the UK would be honest if he or she had come into contact with Ebola.
The consultant also raised concerns about why health workers involved in screening were not being given protective clothing – saying this must mean they were either not expected to find anyone with Ebola, or they were expected to stop infected people without proper protection.
Responding criticism from doctors, Dame Sally said: “At this time, this is the right thing to do.”