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Finland deploys coronavirus-sniffing dogs at main airport

By JARI TANNER for the Associated Press

HELSINKI (AP) — Finland has deployed coronavirus-sniffing dogs at the Nordic country’s main international airport in a four-month trial of an alternative testing method that could become a cost-friendly and quick way to identify infected travelers.

Four dogs of different breeds trained by Finland’s Smell Detection Association started working Wednesday at the Helsinki Airport as part of the government-financed trial.

“It’s a very promising method. Dogs are very good at sniffing,” Anna Hielm-Bjorkman, a University of Helsinki professor of equine and small animal medicine, said.

“If it works, it will be a good (coronavirus) screening method at any other places,” she said, listing hospitals, ports, elderly people’s homes, sports venues and cultural events among the possible locations where trained dogs could put their snouts to work.

While researchers in several countries, including Australia, France, Germany the United States, are also studying canines as coronavirus detectors, the Finnish trial is among the largest so far.

Hielm-Bjorkman told The Associated Press that Finland is the second country after the United Arab Emirates – and the first in Europe – to assign dogs to sniff out the coronavirus. A similar program started at Dubai International Airport over the summer.

Passengers who agree to take a free test under the voluntary program in Helsinki do not have direct physical contact with a dog.

They are asked to swipe their skin with a wipe which is then put into a jar and given to a dog waiting in a separate booth. The participating animals – ET, Kossi, Miina and Valo – previously underwent training to detect cancer, diabetes or other diseases.

It takes the dog a mere 10 seconds to sniff the virus samples before it gives the test result by scratching a paw, laying down, barking or otherwise making its conclusion known. The process should be completed within one minute, according to Hielm-Bjorkman.

If the result is positive, the passenger is urged to take a standard polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, coronavirus test, to check the dog’s accuracy.

Timo Aronkyto,, the deputy mayor of Vantaa, the capital region city where the airport is located, said the program is costing 300,000 euros ($350,000) – an amount he called “remarkably lower” than for other methods of mass testing arriving passengers.

The four sniffer dogs are set to work at the airport in shifts, with two on duty at a time while the other two get a break.

“Dogs need to rest from time to time. If the scent is easy, it doesn’t wear out the dog too much. But if there are lots of new scents around, dogs do get tired easier,“ Anette Kare of Finland’s Smell Detection Association – also known as Wise Nose – said as she gently patted ET, her white shepherd.

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River Boat Collision in Budapest Kills 7 People, 21 Remain Missing

A river boat cruise through the Hungarian capital of Budapest went horribly wrong on Wednesday night, when the boat hit another, bigger vessel and flipped over, sending passengers into the water.

Hundreds of rescue workers line the shores of the Danube River in Budapest to help locate the missing passengers from sightseeing boat (Photo by GERGELY BESENYEI / AFP)GERGELY BESENYEI/AFP/Getty Images

Seven people were confirmed dead after the accident, while 21 people remain missing. Of the 35 passengers on board the sightseeing boat, 33 were South Korean nationals.

Hungarian police said the boats collided and the sightseeing boat flipped and sank in seven seconds. The captain of the largest vessel is being held by police, who are considering arresting him formally. Known only as Mr. Yuriy, the 64-year-old man from Ukraine, is being detained due to suspicious evidence found by police when they searched his vessel.

The Viking Sigyn hotelship sustained visible damage following its collision with the sightseeing boat on the River Danube in Budapest, on Thursday, May 30, 2019. Photo Courtesy of Zoltan Mathe/MTI via AP

Police have continued to search for the 21 missing passengers, though the President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, said in a statement on Wednesday that poor weather had affected the rescue efforts.

Police did manage to rescue seven passengers from the initial accident, all of whom were sent to local hospitals to be treated for injuries. Six of the passengers have now been discharged, while one passenger is still being treated for broken ribs, according to an ER doctor who spoke with CNN.

Of the seven people killed in the accident, all were of South Korean nationality. None of the passengers had been wearing life jackets, said police.