The highly accurate device, slightly larger than a smoke detector, is being hailed as a potential boon for screening in airplane cabins, classrooms, nursing homes and offices, reports The Sunday Times.
Early studies by scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of Durham look promising.
They appear to have shown that the device has an accuracy level of up to 98-100%, which makes it as reliable as benchmark PCR lab Covid-19 tests and considerably better than rapid lateral flow tests.
The researchers stressed that their results are still in the early stages, with their work published in an article that has yet to be peer reviewed.
The sensor, made by the Roboscientific company of Cambridgeshire, works by detecting chemicals produced by the skin or present in the breath of people infected with the coronavirus.
These “volatile organic compounds” create an odor that is too subtle to be sniffed by the human nose.
A study by the Covid alarm research team has shown that they can be detected by dogs, but the alarm is said to be more accurate and convenient.
The Sunday Times said the detectors could find people with the virus even if they were not yet showing symptoms, making it more effective than PCR tests, which have been shown to be inadequate for asymptomatic carriers.
It takes machines 15 to 30 minutes to sample the air in a large room, with the results sent instantly to a cell phone or computer.
At present, the sensors would cost around £ 5,000 each, according to the newspaper.
It comes as Boris Johnson signaled yesterday that he may delay Freedom Day, currently set for June 21, when all restrictions are said to be lifted.
But scientists have warned that daily cases could reach 100,000 next month.
About 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.
That could mean pushing back plans to fully unlock in July.
The latest Opinium market research poll showed that 54% of the public would be in favor of the postponement, with 37% against.
Thanks to the successful roll-out of vaccination, fewer patients end up in the hospital – and those who do so are discharged faster. But there are more admissions than releases and 55% of the country is not fully vaccinated.
The Delta strain from India is 60% more transmissible and a single injection of Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines only offers 33% protection against it.
The Prime Minister said: “We are not sure how much this will translate into additional mortality, but it is clearly a matter of serious concern.
“We want to make sure the roadmap is irreversible, but you can’t have an irreversible roadmap unless you are prepared to be careful. Scientists agree on one thing: they don’t think there is any need to go back. “