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…