Helsinki Airport to use trained dogs to sniff out passengers infected with coronavirus

One of Wise Nose's coronavirus sniffer dogs

An airport in Finland will trial using trained dogs to sniff out passengers who are carrying coronavirus.

The pilot project, taking place at Helsinki Airport, will start this week with 16 dogs – four per shift – enrolled in the scheme.

It follows a study by the University of Helsinki’s Veterinary Faculty, which demonstrated that trained dogs could smell Covid-19 with close to 100 per cent certainty.

Finnish airport operator Finavia also said the dogs could detect coronavirus from a much smaller sample: they needed between 10 and 100 molecules to identify the virus, compared to the 1.8 million required by the PCR test.

“The pilot that will be kicked off on 22 September 2020 is unique and a world first,” said director of Helsinki Airport Ulla Lettijeff.  

“No other airport has attempted to use canine scent detection on such a large scale against Covid-19.  

“This might be an additional step forward on the way to beating Covid-19.”

There will be no direct contact between the dogs and passengers. Instead, travellers will be required to swab their skin with a test wipe.

These wipes will be sniffed by the dogs, and anyone they identify as carrying coronavirus will be directed to a health information point.

The dogs have been trained by Wise Nose, a Finnish agency that specialises in smell detection.

Most of the dogs have previous scent detection experience, with the amount of time it takes to teach them the coronavirus scent varying according to their backgrounds.  

One of the dogs, eight-year-old greyhound mix Kössi, learned to identify the smell in just seven minutes.

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