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Infectious Diseases (Control)

Volume 465: debated on Thursday 26 May 1949

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asked the Minister of Health if he is satisfied that, in view of the increased and increasing speed of modern transport, he has adequate powers to control the introduction into this country of infectious diseases from overseas.

I am considering whether any further powers are needed. The general question of quarantine control will next month come before the Second World Health Assembly. The problem is not simply to control infectious disease, but to control it with the minimum hindrance to traffic.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether his existing powers include the absolute right to refuse to allow people to land from ships that are in quarantine?

I believe that there are powers which can be exercised in certain cases to that effect, but I am not quite satisfied that they are adequate and I am making inquiries.


asked the Minister of Health to what extent his regulations authorise port medical officers at ports in the United Kingdom to prevent persons who have been in contact with infectious diseases from landing; and what conditions they are permitted to impose before allowing such persons to land.

As the answer to the hon. Member's Question is long, I will, with permission, circulate a statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the statement:

I have no power to prevent persons from landing on account of infectious disease.

The Port Health Regulations, 1933 and 1945, prescribe separately the conditions that, in general conformity with the relevant International Sanitary Convention, may be imposed against plague, cholera, yellow fever, typhus fever and smallpox. A full answer to the hon. Member's Question would therefore be very long.

Normally the greatest risk to this country is presented by smallpox. If a ship arrives that has, or has recently had, a case of smallpox on board, any person suffering from the disease is disembarked and isolated.

Any person exposed to infection on board, unless in the opinion of the port medical officer that person is sufficiently protected by recent vaccination or by a previous attack of smallpox may be—

  • (a) offered vaccination and placed under surveillance for 14 days, or
  • (b) placed under surveillance for 14 days without vaccination, or
  • (c) offered vaccination and isolated until the result of the vaccination is known, and thereafter kept under surveillance for 14 days from the arrival of the ship, or
  • (d) isolated for 14 days after the arrival of the ship.
  • The requirements ( c) and ( d) may not be imposed unless the port medical officer considers that there is an exceptionally serious risk of the introduction of smallpox into the country.

    "Surveillance" is defined in the relevant International Sanitary Convention to mean that the persons are not isolated, but that the health authorities of the places to which they are going are notified of their coming. The port health regulations impose on such persons obligations designed to secure that they can be effectively supervised.