Scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University are working on the new technology (Image: Google)

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British scientists say they have developed a ceiling-mounted Covid "alarm" that can detect anyone infected in as little as 15 minutes.

The highly-accurate device, slightly larger than a smoke alarm, is being hailed as a potential boon for screening in aircraft cabins, classrooms, care homes and offices, The Sunday Times reports.

Early studies by scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University look promising.

They appear to have shown the device has a level of accuracy that is as much as 98-100%, making is as reliable as gold-standard PCR lab-based Covid-19 tests and considerably more so than quick lateral flow tests.

The researchers have stressed their results are at an early stage, with their work published in a paper that is yet to be peer-reviewed.

The detector could be just as accurate as the lab-based PCR tests
(Image: Getty Images)

The sensor, made by Cambridgeshire firm Roboscientific, works by detecting chemicals produced by the skin or present in the breath of those infected with coronavirus.

These "volatile organic compounds" create odour too subtle to be sniffed by the human nose.

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A study by the Covid alarm's research team showed they could be detected by dogs, but the alarm would be more accurate and more practical.

The Sunday Times said the detectors could find people with the virus even if they were yet to show symptoms, making it more effective than PCR tests, which have been found inadequate for asymptomatic carriers.

The device could be more effective than a test for people who are asymptomatic carriers of the virus
(Image: PA)

The alarms could 'sniff' out the virus in a busy room
(Image: Getty Images)

It takes 15 to 30 minutes for the machines to sample the air in a large room, with the results sent instantly to a mobile phone or computer.

At present, the sensors would cost around £5,000 each, the paper said.

It comes as Boris Johnson yesterday signalled he might delay Freedom Day, currently set for June 21, when all restrictions would supposedly be lifted.

But scientists have warned daily cases could surge to 100,000 next month.

Boris Johnson said rising hospitalisations were “a matter of serious, serious concern”
(Image: Getty)

Around 90% of new infections are now the Delta variant, with cases doubling every nine days. And more infections means a higher risk of mutations turning into jab-resistant variants, said UCL virologist Professor Deenan Pillay.

This could mean pushing back plans to unlock fully into July.

The latest polling from market researcher Opinium showed 54% of the public would be in favour of delay, with 37% against.

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Fewer patients are ending up in hospital thanks to the successful vaccination roll out – and those that do get out faster. But more are being admitted than released and 55% of the country are not fully vaccinated.

The Delta strain from India is 60% more transmissible and one injection of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines gives only 33% protection against it.

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The PM said: “We don’t know exactly to what extent that will feed through into extra mortality, but clearly it’s a matter of serious, serious concern.

“We want to make sure the roadmap is irreversible, but you can’t have an irreversible roadmap unless you’re prepared to be cautious. The scientists are agreed about one thing – they do not think there is any case for going into reverse.”