You’ve probably seen security dogs sniffing their way around airports, whether at security, inside the terminal, or at baggage claim. The majority of the time, they’re seeking out contraband or explosives. But at Dubai International Airport (DXB) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), there are some new dogs in town: the coronavirus detectors.
Dogs have somewhere in the ballpark of 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses—humans have just 6 million—meaning their sense of smell is so highly developed that they can even sniff out not only diseases like cancer and tuberculosis but also viruses. Over the course of the pandemic, trainers around the world have been working with dogs to teach them to identify the coronavirus, but the UAE is the first country to enter its coronavirus-sniffing K9 officers into service. “Data and studies showed that detection of presumed Covid-19 cases achieved approximately 92 percent in overall accuracy," the UAE Ministry of Interior said in a statement.
At DXB, select passengers will be asked to provide an armpit swab. Then the K9 officers will inspect the swabs a separate, private room: there is no direct contact between passengers and the dogs or their handlers. The dogs will reportedly be able to provide a result in under a minute. It is, however, unclear how passengers will be selected for this extra screening, and it’s also unclear what will happen to passengers if they test positive.
That said, coronavirus-sniffing dogs aren’t the only COVID-19 safety measure implemented by DXB. In fact, the airport currently has one of the strictest coronavirus policies in the world: as of Aug. 1, all passengers flying on Emirates to, from, or through DXB—which includes passengers on a layover—are required to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test result from a test administered within 96 hours before travel.