Royal visit for dogs training to sniff out Covid-19 in Milton Keynes

  • Watch a report from ITV Anglia reporter Claire McGlasson

The Duchess of Cornwall has hailed trials teaching dogs to detect coronavirus as a "game-changing moment" which will "save thousands of lives".

Camilla, wearing a plastic visor for the first time in public, visited the Medical Detection Dogs charity in Milton Keynes on Wednesday to see the progress being made.

The duchess, who is patron of the charity, is a well-known dog lover and has two Jack Russell terriers called Bluebell and Beth.

The duchess said: "From the minute I visited you, I just knew that there was something very special about these dogs and as we've seen today with Covid, how quickly they're learning to sniff the scent.

"It will be a game changing moment for this country and the world, and luckily it's Britain that is leading the

She was greeted on arrival by working dog Storm - a Labrador Golden Retriever cross who is also in training to detect the virus.

In the indoor training room, Camilla watched as cocker spaniel Asher and fox red Labrador Belle are taught to sniff out Covid-19 samples alongside bio detection specialist trainers.

Camilla wore a plastic visor in public for the first time. Credit: ITV

Camilla met the two Covid-19 dogs in training as they carried out a second demonstration of passive screening - which could be used in public places such as airports.

The collaboration between the charity, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University will ascertain whether dogs can detect the odour of the Covid-19 illness.

If successful, the trial could revolutionise diagnosis of the virus by enabling screening of high numbers of people, even if asymptomatic.

The duchess added: "We do need help, we do need more positive samples.

"If we can appeal to all hospitals to please, please give the Medical Detection Dogs these samples because they are going to help to save thousands of lives, and I think that it is so important.

"Also, we need more dogs, we need more handlers, we need more foster homes. This is a game-changing moment and I really do urge everybody, if they can, to please help us."

Dogs could be deployed to airports in the UK within six months to assist with rapid screening of people travelling from abroad - potentially up to 250 people per hour.

Professor Steve Lindsay, from the Department of Biosciences at Durham University, said: "If we can show that our trained dogs can identify people carrying the virus, but who are not sick, it will be a game changer.

"We will then be able to scale-up the use of dogs at ports of entry to identify travellers entering the country with the virus.

"This could be very important to help prevent a second wave of the epidemic."

Medical Detection Dogs trains the animals to detect the odour of human disease with the aim of improving diagnosis and saving lives.

Bio Detection Dogs already investigate samples to find the odour of cancer, malaria, Parkinson's and other diseases.