In front of the TV with a good cup of tea, it’s kind of hard to believe.
People in Africa are so desperate to improve their lives, they’re actually dying to get here.
Whatever it takes
A lot of them are genuine immigrants. Thanks to lapses by the under-staffed UK Border Agency, a lot of them are not. Half a million have already fallen off the list – and that doesn’t include the other half million or so living here illegally.
We seen it on the TV though – desperate young men, swarming aboard UK-bound lorries caught in tailbacks outside Calais. Crowds of them over-running the ferry terminals, badly-injured hopefuls hauled out from under Eurostar trains.
When you’re desperate, anything goes – including living as a fugitive once you get here.
With luck and the right connections, a young man from Freetown in Sierra Leone might make it across Saharan Africa, over to Italy in a leaky boat, and north to Calais in as little as ten days.
A few hairy moments, scrambling aboard a lorry bound cross-Channel – and the dream world starts, living with friends and relatives in UK.
Dream or nightmare.
Without papers, signing on for any form of benefits is difficult. So is getting a job that pays. But with perseverance, a lowly washing-up job at an under-the-counter rate half the minimum wage is possible.
Which is when the problems start.
Is that the flu, or just getting used to freezing cold Britain?
More than a sickie
The fever, the chest pains, the loss of appetite and red eyes. Maybe it’s malaria. There’s lots of mosquitoes in Sierra Leone. Hard to stand for hours washing up when you’re sick – but you need the money.
Uh huh. Ebola has an incubation period of twenty-one days. A ticking time-bomb.
And look at the panic in New York.
Out of time
A young doctor, Craig Spencer, returns from Ebola relief work with Médecins Sans Frontières in Guinea. He goes for a 3-mile jog, visits the local park, takes a ride on the subway, hails a taxi to a Brooklyn bowling alley. After six days the sickness starts – fever and diarrhoea. Ebola positive. Immediate isolation in Bellevue Hospital.
Not so easy when you’re illegal. So your friends cover up.
That nice African family next-door? Scared people with a guilty secret.
Out of luck
Because in the second week, it gets serious. Sore throat, headache, fatigue – you have to stay in bed.
But you’re not supposed to be here. You’re too ill to go to a NHS Walk-in and a doctor won’t come to you. Your friends care for you as best they can.
Reality hits. It’s not flu. It’s not malaria – you’re much too ill for that. And Ebola is haemorrhagic, you’re bleeding all over the place.
Your friends do their best. But they’re not doctors – and they dare not tell anybody. Your bloody towels and sheets go into a plastic bag in the wheelie bin outside. It’s a week before the council do a pickup.
Out of action
It’s a one-way ticket and you’re not coming back. But still nobody knows.
When the inevitable happens, your friends do they only thing they can. They’re illegal too and cannot risk exposure.
One of them has a car. At three in the morning, a bigger plastic bag is loaded up and dropped in the River Lee. It’s two days before police find the body, washed ashore in the Lockwood Reservoir.
London’s first local Ebola case. A contaminated water supply. Where has the victim been? What contacts did he have? How many others might be infected? Where does anyone start?
Are we safe enough? Yes, probably.
Ebola spreads by direct contact and our medical teams are on the ball. And say what you like about the NHS, when the chips are down they’re as professional as anywhere in the world.
We shall overcome
We might not look like it any more – with so many of us also from other parts of the world – but we’re the Brits who stood up the the Blitz.
Next door, wherever – we can beat this thing and we will.
Originally posted 2014-10-24 12:46:41.