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Detect COVID: Chile dogs report for duty at Santiago airport

The task of sniffing out passengers infected with COVID-19 at Chile’s Santiago international airport is going to the dogs.

A team of Golden Retrievers and Labradors sit when they smell the virus and get a treat. The canines sport green “biodetector” jackets with a red cross.

Passengers at an airport health checkpoint wipe their necks and wrists with gauze pads that are then put in glass containers and sent to the dogs to see if they detect COVID-19. 

Sniffer dogs are best-known for finding drugs and explosives but have also previously been trained to detect malaria, cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

Dogs trained to detect the novel coronavirus have already begun sniffing passenger samples at airports in the United Arab Emirates and Finland.

A study recently found dogs can identify infected individuals with 85% to 100% accuracy and rule out infection with 92% to 99% accuracy.

Chile’s Carabinero police trained the dogs and Inspector General Esteban Diaz said dogs have more than 3 million olfactory receptors, more than 50 times those of humans, so were uniquely placed to help fight the coronavirus.

Infections in Chile are far down from a peak in June but have begun rising again with about 2,000 new cases on average reported each day, according to a Reuters tally. Chile has a total of 589,189 confirmed cases and 16,217 deaths from the disease.