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Helsinki Airport set to deploy coronavirus sniffer dogs

Christian Fernsby |
Four specially trained dogs demonstrated their ability to sniff coronavirus in people even before showing symptoms during a press conference held at Helsinki Vantaa International Airport on Tuesday.

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The pilot project is scheduled to commence later this week. The dogs showed the assembled journalists the whole process of how they sniff the samples and identify the suspected coronavirus infections.

When passengers arrive at a coronavirus dog sampling point at the airport, they would enter a small, screened area where they would be required to swab their skin with a wipe and drop it into a designated container as instructed. A dog and its handler would wait behind a wall where the dog would sniff the swabs.

The whole procedure would take about a minute. If the test result is positive, the passenger would be directed to the health information point for further instructions.

Later this week, four dogs called Kossi, Miina, ET and Valo all different breeds would start working at the airport, according to Wise Nose Finland Smell Detection Association, which is responsible for the training and deployment of the dogs.

Participation in dog-assisted coronavirus testing is currently voluntary. All passengers and airport staff can apply for testing, which is effortless and painless, Wise Nose told Xinhua.

In spring this year, the University of Helsinki had tested a group of trained sniffer dogs, and found them to be able to learn and work fast and even perform better than the current coronavirus tests that are based on molecular techniques. The trained dogs had previously been employed to identify different types of cancer, said the university.

Dogs can also detect the novel coronavirus from a significantly smaller sample than the commonly used PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests. In practice, therefore, a dog is expected to be able to identify coronavirus infection in a human earlier than laboratory tests, Anna Hielm-Bjorkman, a veterinarian from the University of Helsinki, was quoted by the Finnish national broadcaster Yle as saying.

The trial at Helsinki Airport will last four months. Timo Aronkyto, deputy mayor of Vantaa, told the press that the dogs will definitely begin their "official activities" once the trial is deemed to be successful.

Employing dogs to identify coronavirus is also of interest elsewhere in the world, noted Aronkyto, saying that they have received numerous inquiries from health authorities of various airports.

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