Police Hope to Train Corona Dogs in Iceland Skip to content

Police Hope to Train Corona Dogs in Iceland

By Larissa Kyzer

Photo: Lögreglan á Norðurlandi vestra, Facebook.

The Chief of Police in Northwest Iceland hopes to bring specially trained COVID sniffer dogs to the country, RÚV reports. Police in Iceland have been in regular contact with organizations in the UK that train dogs and are investigating whether they can be trained to sniff out the coronavirus on individuals. Preliminary findings show that the dogs are able to detect positive COVID-19 samples with about 90% accuracy and only this week, so-called ‘corona dogs’ started working as part of a pilot project at the Helsinki airport.

Per The New York Times, COVID test-by-dog seems far less uncomfortable than the nose swab method: travellers in Helsinki, for instance, are having their sweat tested. First, they wipe their necks, then drop the sample into a container, and pass it to a corona dog’s handler, who allows the dog to sniff it alongside other containers with different scents. The dogs are able to detect coronavirus-positive samples in roughly ten seconds; the whole process takes less than a minute. According to Finnish researchers, the dogs have also been successful detecting the virus in asymptomatic carriers.

“The British have experience training malaria dogs”

Police in Northwest Iceland oversees the training and assessment of all police dogs in the country. Chief of Police Stefán Vagn Stefánsson says that he’s been closely monitoring the progress of tests with COVID sniffer dogs abroad, and most particularly those taking place in the UK, as the British began training corona dogs quite early.

“The British have experience training malaria dogs in The Gambia in 2016, which yielded good results,” he noted. “They’ve put us in touch with the scientific institutes that are leading this work in the UK [the London School and Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Bernham University] and we’ve been able to follow along with their research.”

Once the British dogs have achieved a high enough success rate, Stefán hopes to be able to start a similar project in Iceland.

Two dogs, one hour, 500 samples

“We’ve got all the knowledge we need here to train these dogs,” he said. “We’ve located dogs abroad that have yet to be fully trained and can be brought to the country. It would probably be about a two-month process for the dogs to be able to sniff and detect skin swabs.”

In the British studies, the corona dogs are able to smell up to 250 samples an hour, which means, Stefán pointed out, that two dogs could sniff up to 500 samples an hour. “And, of course, to maximize accuracy,” he continued, “you could have two dogs smell the same samples.”

While Stefán is undoubtedly excited about the project’s potential and its applications in Iceland, he emphasized that it will be important to see how the pilot projects in Finland, Britain, and Germany progress. “And then, of course, it will be up to people other than us to make a decision about whether this becomes a reality here.”

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