The Government has been urged to act after a diphtheria outbreak was reported at the asylum seeker processing centre in Kent. The Guardian reported that the centre, which is located at the former Ministry of Defence site, provides tented accommodation for about 3,000 people who have arrived in the UK on small boats.
This came in the wake of a man’s death at the Manston asylum centre, which may have been caused by a diphtheria infection. The man died in hospital on November 19 after he was believed to have entered the UK on a small boat seven days earlier.
Diphtheria is a highly contagious skin, nose, and throat disease. Without treatment, it can cause respiratory issues and be fatal. It is extremely rare in the UK, with only 10 confirmed cases last year. The country subsequently introduced a disease vaccination programme in 1942.
According to the report, the Home Office refused to confirm the number of cases of diphtheria at Manston, but said the number of cases was “very small.” Manston was built to accommodate just 1,000 people, and the latest development would raise the alarm among public health experts as there have been instances that the people are sleeping close to one another on the floor in tents.
Some asylum seekers have also recently been transported directly from Manston to airports before leaving the UK and it is not known if any infection test was conducted beforehand. Home Office sources told The Guardian that all cases had been treated with antibiotics and they had followed the isolation guidance required.
The report further quoted the sources as saying that the Home Office provided 24/7 health facilities at Manston as well as having robust contingency plans to deal with health issues such as communicable diseases. This is, however, not the first time that the site has experienced an outbreak. Previously, asylum seekers at Manston reported of an outbreak of norovirus and scabies.
Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, is a member of the Home affairs select committee who visited Manston in June. He told The Guardian: “This is appalling news. It’s gravely concerning and absolutely shocking. It should be top priority for the new home secretary. We need to completely rethink the strategy and get folk back into communities.”
Clare Moseley, the founder of the charity Care4Calais, said: “When people arrive in Dover they are exhausted and suffering from exposure following what can be a 10-hour journey across the Channel. Petrol and salt burns are common. To leave them sleeping on the floor at Manston, cold and hungry, is a disgrace. The government is letting them and us down and must urgently do more.”