Covid ceiling alarm developed 'to detect virus in a room within 15 minutes'

13 June 2021, 11:22 | Updated: 13 June 2021, 15:05

Scientists say they have developed an alarm that detects Covid in a room within 15 minutes
Scientists say they have developed an alarm that detects Covid in a room within 15 minutes. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

British scientists say they have made a ceiling-mounted Covid "alarm" that can detect the virus in a room within 15 minutes.

Teams at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University claim the device has an accuracy of between 98 and 100 per cent.

If so, it would make the sensor as reliable as the gold-standard PCR lab-based coronavirus tests used for travel. It would also be far quicker than lateral flow tests used across the country.

However, the researchers stressed these are early results and their study has been published in a paper that has not yet been peer-reviewed.

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The highly accurate piece of technology, which is slightly larger than a smoke alarm, could be used for screening in aircraft cabins, classrooms, care homes and offices, according to a report in The Sunday Times.

It works by detecting chemicals, known as "volatile organic compounds", that are produced by the skin or are present in the breath of people infected with Covid-19.

Their odour is too subtle for the human nose but can be detected by dogs, the team of scientists said.

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However, they added that the machine, which has been made by Cambridgeshire firm Roboscientific, would be more accurate and practical.

The detectors will be able to find people with the virus even if they are showing no symptoms, the newspaper added, which would make it more effective than PCR tests that can be inadequate for asymptomatic carriers.

They take 15 to 30 minutes to sample the air in a large room, with the results immediately sent to a mobile phone or computer.

Currently, the alarms would cost around £5,000 each, the paper said.