UK soldiers deployed to ebola epicentre

British troops are to be deployed to Sierra Leone on a mission to help fight the spiralling ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Up to 700 soldiers from the Royal Scots Borders 1st Battalion, based in Holywood, Northern Ireland, will eventually be stationed near the capital Freetown.

Around 40 troops have already arrived in the country, said the Ministry of Defence, and more are flying out soon.

Commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Matt Munro said: "This is a challenge unlike any, but the point is that we are very well prepared.

"This kind of operation represents, I think, the future for parts of the British Army.

"We deployed in the first instance to Sierra Leone at very short notice, not knowing how long my people were likely to be there."

He added that the soldiers were at a very low risk of contracting the virus.

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Argus will also sail and moor off the country's coast and could be used to evacuate any British casualties if needed.

Three Merlin helicopters will be onboard to fly doctors and personnel to hard-to-reach areas.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: "The ebola outbreak in West Africa is already a global threat to public health and it's vital that the UK remains at the forefront of responding to the epidemic.

"We are stepping up significantly the UK's contribution and leadership in work to tackle the outbreak, on land, in the air and at sea.

"At the heart of the package is the commitment to provide more than 750 personnel to help with the establishment of ebola treatment centres and an ebola training academy."

Sky's Deputy Political Editor Joey Jones added: "At this stage it's all about trying to make sure that you can set up the proper infrastructure, the proper health services in some of those hard to reach areas.

"There's no plan for some sort of evacuation or anything like that."

It comes after David Cameron chaired a lunchtime meeting of the emergency COBRA committee.

Four major hospitals in the UK - London's Royal Free Hospital and three others in Sheffield, Newcastle and Liverpool, are on standby to deal with any outbreak in the UK.

The hospitals already have infectious disease units and have been lined up to provide "surge capacity" if the virus spreads to Britain.

Experts have said the UK is the third most likely country outside Africa to report an ebola case.

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