Camilla and Health Secretary hail Covid-19 sniffer dog demonstration

By Tony Jones, PA Court Correspondent
·3-min read

The Duchess of Cornwall has said Health Secretary Matt Hancock was left “impressed” by a demonstration of Covid-19 detecting dogs trained by a charity she supports.

Camilla was joined by the politician for the event staged by the Medical Detection Dogs where Labradors, trained to sniff out the virus, were put through their paces in the real-life environment of Paddington station.

The Department of Health has helped to fund the clinical trials, which are being run as a collaboration between the charity and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University.

The Duchess of Cornwall (centre) and Health Secretary Matt Hancock (right) watch a demonstration by the charity Medical Detection Dogs. Justin Tallis/PA Wire
The Duchess of Cornwall and Health Secretary Matt Hancock watch a demonstration by the charity Medical Detection Dogs (Justin Tallis/PA)

Asked by reporters whether she thought the Health Secretary’s presence indicated the strength of the Government’s backing for the project, she gave a double thumbs up sign and said: “We hope so, fingers crossed.

“I think they were impressed. How could they not be?”

Six times during the demonstration, Labradors Bob and Basil picked out the person wearing an item of clothing that had an odour associated with Covid-19 from five volunteers.

In the past, the dogs being trained have shown they can find a Covid sufferer who is not showing symptoms within half a second.

It is hoped in the coming months the animals could be deployed at airports, train stations and sporting venues to assist with the rapid screening of people.

Camilla, who is patron of Medical Detection Dogs, described the dogs as “simply remarkable, so impressive”.

Mr Hancock appeared to record a social media video before leaving and as he held one of the dogs being trained, he said: “These dogs can detect coronavirus in the same way that they could detect drugs, or you can detect other things – and I’ve seen it for myself, absolutely brilliant.”

During the event, Camilla was asked how she has been, and replied: “I’ve been well, touch wood.”

Medical Detection Dogs has already trained canines to detect the odour of cancer, malaria and Parkinson’s disease.

Camilla has pet dogs and got the chance to meet one of the animals being trained to sniff out Covid-19. Justin Tallis/PA Wire
Camilla has pet dogs and got the chance to meet one of the animals being trained to sniff out Covid-19 (Justin Tallis/PA)

Earlier this year, the charity began its successful collaborative work to determine whether dogs could also pick up the smell that indicates a person has Covid-19.

Dr Claire Guest, chief executive of Medical Detection Dogs, said: “What we are able to do is to train dogs to identify the odour before people have got symptoms. And of course this is going to be the game changer.

“Identifying individuals who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic is the huge challenge moving forwards. This isn’t instead of all the testing that is being done but is to complement it.”

A dog is put through its paces during the demonstration to detect Covid-19. Justin Tallis/PA Wire
A dog is put through its paces during the demonstration to detect Covid-19 (Justin Tallis/PA)

The duchess also took the time to meet and thank some of Paddington’s British Transport Police and Network Rail staff.

Pointing to her face mask, she said: “I’m sorry you probably can’t hear me talking.

“You must know every inch of this place. This has always been my station, it’s where I catch my trains.”