The Ebola virus, which has killed more than 670 people in West Africa, is a “threat” to the UK, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has told the BBC.
So far no Britons have been affected and there are no cases in the UK, but the government is viewing the outbreak very seriously, Mr Hammond said. He said he would chair an emergency Cobra meeting on the issue later.
It comes after Public Health England issued a national alert to UK doctors amid fears the virus could spread. Last week an infected Liberian man was found to have travelled through a major Nigerian airport.
Several West African airlines have now stopped flying to Liberia and Sierra Leone over concerns about the outbreak.
Mr Hammond told BBC News the government was “absolutely focused” on tackling the threat posed by the disease, including looking at “whether there are precautions we need to take – either in the UK or to protect our nationals in the area abroad”.
He went on: “At the moment we don’t think any British nationals [abroad] are affected and we are fairly confident there are no cases in the UK.
“But it is a threat, it is something we need to respond to and we will be doing so through the Cobra mechanism.”
Earlier, the government’s chief scientist Sir Mark Walport told the Daily Telegraph Ebola was a threat because of how “interconnected” the world was now. Sir Mark said: “The most dangerous infections of humans have always been those which have emerged from other species. They are a potential major threat to us.
“Emerging infectious disease is a global grand challenge. We were lucky with Sars. But we have to do the best horizon scanning.
“We have to think about risk and managing risk appropriately.”
Ebola kills up to 90% of those infected, but patients have a better chance of survival if they receive early treatment.
The outbreak – the world’s deadliest to date – was first reported in Guinea in February. It then spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone.