UK government considers putting coronavirus sniffer dogs at airports

Could dogs that can sniff out coronavirus be used at UK airports? Charity says it is in talks with government about using dogs being trained to detect the virus in half a second

  • Six dogs are being trained to identify coronavirus in less than a second
  • Medical Detection Dogs says it needs £500,000 to properly train its pooches
  • If approved, the dogs could be trained within six to eight weeks, claims CEO 
  • Passengers are still arriving untested in the UK from coronavirus hotspots
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

A charity which is training dogs to detect coronavirus in the hope they can be deployed at UK airports says it has been in discussions with the government and remain ‘hopeful’ the project will work. 

Claire Guest, CEO of Medical Detection Dogs, which has dogs trained to detect cancer and malaria, says its dogs can detect diseases in less than a second.

She believes its dogs, among them cocker spaniels and a Labradoodle, could be used to test people arriving at UK airports when lockdown measures are relaxed. 

On Monday the Daily Mail reported around 15,000 passengers were still flying into the UK every day, without any tests when they land. 

Medical Detection Dog Florin takes part in a training exercise to see if he can sniff out a deadly virus. It’s hoped dogs could be trained to detect coronavirus, following similar success with malaria and cancer

Claire Guest told the BBC’s Today programme: ‘People are coming in and may be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic those few days when you’ve got the virus and don’t know it.

‘A dog is sniffing each person in turn – it takes 0.5 of a second, the dog quickly identifies which people need a test and need to go straight into isolation to prevent the further spread around the UK.’

The charity’s website details the six dogs who are being taught to find Covid-19 with the help of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Durham University.

The group of three working cocker spaniels, a Labrador, a Labradoodle and a Labrador golden retriever cross could be trained in six to eight weeks, but £500,000 funding will be needed to complete the training, Ms Guest said.

She told the BBC: ‘We know that diseases have got these unique odours, we know how rapidly (dogs are) able to identify them, that’s why they’re used for drugs and explosives.

‘It’s exactly the same with a disease,’ she added.

Medical Detection Dogs says it is in talks with the government over plans to place dogs at UK airports, including Heathrow, to test passengers for Covid-19

Medical Detection Dogs says it is in talks with the government over plans to place dogs at UK airports, including Heathrow, to test passengers for Covid-19 

Before boarding his Iran Air flight from Tehran, Farzad Parhizkar’s temperature – and those of the other 80 or so passengers – was checked by a laser-beam thermometer, he told me.

They had also been obliged to fill in a form giving such details as their name and address, destination, reason for travel, and whether they had any symptoms of coronavirus.

‘Then, when I arrive here in London, there is nothing at all,’ he said.

‘There was no temperature check, no questions about my health, no advice on how to avoid catching the virus. Nothing. Everything was all just like the world is normal.’ 

The head of disease control at the LSHTM said dogs could detect malaria with ‘extremely high accuracy’ and, as other respiratory diseases changed body odour, there was a ‘very high chance’ it could also work with COVID-19. 

Ms Guest told the programme the charity have been in discussions with the Government and said they were ‘hopeful’ about the project.

We have approached the Home Office for a comment.