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Are Scousers Worried About Liverpool Being a Centre for Ebola Treatment?

"Just send them as far north as you can. The Arctic...just keep going north."

While Ebola outbreaks are brutal for those who catch the disease, the nature of its contagion means that it's unlikely to actually spread that fast or far. This hasn't stopped a wave of sensationalist reporting from the media – particularly when someone from that media outlet's stomping ground catches it.

The NHS has chosen four hospitals from across the country to be designated as treatment centres in the event of an outbreak – in London, Sheffield, Newcastle and Liverpool. Perhaps its unsurpring that rolling out the welcome mat to people with a disease with a 70 percent mortality rate and which makes you bleed from various orifices has made some of the people of these host cities a bit jumpy. In Liverpool, there was an Ebola scare when a woman suffered a stroke at the city centre’s coach station.


If you do want to indulge in apocalyptic epidemic fantasies, The Royal University Hospital in Liverpool – identified as a treatment site in case of an outbreak – is a good place to start. It’s undergoing a major rebuilding project that won’t conclude until 2017. The hospital and its sprawling building site loom over a secondary school, university campus and cramped residential streets. Every morning and late afternoon sees roads choked with rush-hour traffic and the pavements clogged with students, school children and workers. The area is a vital artery for the city’s day-to-day existence. I could definitely imagine it in the opening sequence of a 28 Days Later type film.

As well as the Royal University Hospital, Liverpool University’s Institute of Infection and Global Health has worked tirelessly. Further down the road sits the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, the first of its kind in the world. Its constant and vital research is aiding health workers in their fight. But how do Scousers feel about the whole situation? Are they proud of their city’s contribution to global health, or would they rather the honour went to some place a little further away so they don't freak out at every cough? I wandered down to the University Hospital and its surrounding area to find out.

Michael, 61, was working on the hospital’s building site, and said he was sceptical about its appointment as one of the UK’s crisis centres. “I don’t think using this hospital is safe because of the population in the area. Any facilities for treating Ebola should be kept away from the population where they can be controlled.”


Rosie, 19, and Edward, 21, were pretty calm, even if some nervous humour was lingering.

“I don’t think it’s a massive risk, because somewhere has to have the facilities,” said Rosie. “If Ebola does occur in the UK then we need areas in major cities for people to go and to receive treatment.”

“Just send them as far north as you can!” said Edward. “The Arctic…just keep going north.”

Hugh, 29, was critical of the media’s coverage. “I think it has been sensationalist and very protectionist too,” he said. “We only seem to become bothered when it’s a westerner that becomes ill. Thousands of West Africans and others have died while the media talk about the danger facing ‘us’. It’s disgusting.”

Kieran and Bethany, meanwhile, thought everyone should be much more scared about the threat. “I think the reporting has brushed the dangers of Ebola under the carpet,” said Kieran. “When you consider the mortality rate of 70 percent, even with treatment, any outbreak in a first-world country would be hard to deal with as it has been in West Africa.”

“People should be taking it very seriously,” said Bethany, 18. “I think for people to say that it isn’t a big deal because it isn’t in this country, as of yet, is a risk in itself.”

Alex, 57, was born in Newcastle but has been a resident of Liverpool for 28 years. He was standing outside Lime Street station handing out Christian pamphlets to passers-by. He had been preaching through a microphone about the good news and salvation that God brings. He reckoned Ebola is the next wave of punishment for sin – a result of bad lifestyle choices.


“Diseases and viruses can be a result of the way we as humans lead our lives and commit to our lifestyles," he said. "If we’re told not to put our hand in the fire to get burned, what do we do? We put our hand in the fire. There are things we do that we shouldn’t and that gets us into trouble.

“Through the corridors of time humans have contracted diseases by doing things they shouldn’t do, normally with other partners. We can expect to catch something if we’re advised, by doctors for example, but refuse to stay away from that kind of activity.

“The Bible talks about tongues of fire – how one word can cause a spark. It’s like throwing a match into woodland. If we’re not careful, if one person doesn’t take care of themselves [and] comes to Liverpool, soon it could be tens, hundreds or thousands affected. Is it really under control? Look at the black plague in Tenby. Half of their population of 1,000 was wiped out. We’re not talking about 500 here…if Ebola gets into Liverpool, or anywhere else in the UK, the fact is you’re not talking one case, because something like this always has a knock on effect. Always.”

Feeling a little freaked out about Alex’s predictions of pestilence that will wipe out vast swathes of the population, I spoke to Professor Tom Solomon, Director of the Institute of Infection and Global Health. Fortunately, he was much less doomy.

He said, “We have to accept that it is probable that a small number of cases of Ebola will arrive in the UK. But we are ready to deal with and when it comes and we won’t have a massive outbreak like West Africa.


“Our systems and procedures are robust enough to cope with a case. And we’re not expecting to have many other cases afterwards, because we know how to diagnose it quickly, we have systems in place so if someone comes back with fever, we know how to investigate them and look after them in an isolation facility.”

Further calming me down, The Royal University Hospital told me it “would like to reiterate that there is no risk to members of staff or the general public and anybody coming to the Royal as a patient or visitor should not be concerned.”

Phew. I guess that means I can get back to worrying about climate change, the ever spiralling terror threat and the country's parlous financial state.

@jjviney / @CBethell_photo

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