The Duchess of Cornwall is being shown trials which aim to determine whether dogs can be taught to detect coronavirus.
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.
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 was to watch as cocker spaniel Asher and fox red Labrador Belle are taught to sniff out Covid-19 samples alongside bio detection specialist trainers.
Camilla was meeting the two Covid-19 dogs in training as they carry 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.
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.