World-first trial of super-fast COVID test sparks travel hopes

May 16, 2021
Photo: British Airways

British Airways is conducting a world-first trial of an ultra-rapid COVID-19 antigen test that displays results within 25 seconds but claims an accuracy similar to expensive and slower polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

The airline hopes the super-fast saliva test can play a role in opening up travel and says it can detect both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals with COVID, including variants, with a sensitivity of 98 percent.

The test uses nanotechnology and has already been approved for use in Europe and the UK and is undergoing the US FDA approval process.

READ: New MH370 breakthrough tracking technology passes rigorous validation test.

BA is the first airline in the world to use it and is partnering with manufacturer Canary Global to trial the COVID test on flight and cabin crew.

The Pelican Ultra Rapid COVID-19 test. Photo: BA

“As we start to see the opening up of travel, we remain committed to exploring easy and affordable testing solutions to help our customers travel again, whether it’s for business, to reunite with family and friends or take a much-needed break abroad,’’ BA chief executive Sean Doyle said.

“We think this new ultra-rapid test is a game-changer so we are delighted to work with the team at Canary to begin initial trials with our flight and cabin crew, before exploring what role it could play as a customer testing option.”

Canary describes the test as “a non-invasive saliva ultra-rapid digital antigen test that delivers 98 percent sensitivity and 100 percent specificity in symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals with SARS-CoV-2.”

Users deposit a saliva sample in a disposable sensor unit, shake it and insert it into a re-usable digital reader.

The reader is connected to a blue tooth-enabled device like a smartphone which delivers results through a mobile app.

“The test which probes for both the S and N SARS-Cov-2 protein is optimized to detect variants that have originated across the globe,’’ the company said.

Canary chief executive and Pelican inventor Raj Reddy said the test had been developed with travel in mind.

He said the company was in discussion with other travel, hospitality and events organizers globally and was ramping up production to meet expected demand.

“We are very excited to partner with BA as pioneer and industry leader to trial this test, and we hope the Pelican test can soon be used as a standard test for travelers and crew around the world.”