British Airways has become the first airline in the world to trial a game changing new technology that can detect COVID in less than 25 seconds. The Pelican COVID-19 Ultra Rapid test uses saliva to detect both the S and the N proteins with 98% sensitivity and 100% specificity. The test is being trialed with BA crew initially, but could prove to be a key tool in reopening travel.
The issue of testing for COVID, either before or after a flight, is one that is fraught with problems. The most accurate testing method, the PCR test, can take two or three days to come back from the lab. That raises questions about whether you could have picked up the virus after the test but before the flight, and at the other end, it can extend the time passengers have to quarantine at their destination.
UK flag carrier British Airways is trialing a technology that could put an end to all this uncertainty. Working in partnership with a medical technology company called Canary Global, the airline is trailing the world’s first ‘ultra-rapid’ COVID test, which delivers results within 25 seconds.
The product is called the Pelican COVID-19 Ultra Rapid test, and is hoped to be a leap forward in the effective reopening of travel. Sean Doyle, British Airways Chairman and CEO, commented on the trial, saying,
“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.
“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.”
The airline is first testing it with its flight and cabin crew in order to compare its efficacy against the current standard tests. It has been approved for use in the UK and Europe, and is undergoing FDA assessment to gain approval across the pond too.
How it works
The Pelican COVID-19 test is a non-invasive test that relies on saliva to detect strains of COVID. That will come as a relief to those who have endured months of poking sticks up their nose and down their throat.
BA says that the user simply needs to provide a saliva sample, which is placed into a disposable sensor unit. This is shaken and inserted into a digital reader, which connects via Bluetooth to a smart device such as a tablet or phone. Within 25 seconds, the results of the test are displayed on an app on the device.
The test will detect both the S and the N proteins and promises to deliver PCR-like reliability in detecting both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals. The company claims 98% sensitivity and 100% specificity through the use of the test. CEO of Canary Global and inventor of the ultra-rapid test, Raj Reddy, said,
“Combining the power of nanosensor and digital detection technology, the Pelican CV19 test is the first ultra-rapid test that can return a PCR-like accuracy of 98% sensitivity and 100% specificity.
“We developed the test with the travel industry in mind where speed, accuracy and ease of use are paramount. 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 travellers and crew around the world.”
British Airways is the first to try out this new testing method. It says that, if all goes well with the forthcoming trials, it hopes to be able to offer the test on routes where a PCR level of testing sensitivity is required. If the test proves to be as good as it sounds, it could indeed be a game changer not just for travel, but for hospitality, events and many other industries that have suffered at the hands of the pandemic.