Brits who contract Covid could be sent antiviral tablets to take at home, PM says

20 April 2021, 17:35 | Updated: 28 April 2021, 19:20

Boris Johnson announced the government's new antivirals taskforce on Tuesday
Boris Johnson announced the government's new antivirals taskforce on Tuesday. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

People who contract Covid-19 could be sent antiviral tablets to take at home under plans drawn up by a new government taskforce, Boris Johnson has said.

The prime minister said the antivirals taskforce will help identify new medicines for the treatment of coronavirus.

He told the 5pm Downing Street press conference that the drugs could reassure people that the country could "continue on our path towards freedom".

"This means for example that if you test positive for the virus that there might be a tablet you could take at home to stop the virus in its tracks and significantly reduce the chance of infection turning into more serious disease," Mr Johnson added.

The UK leader said there was nothing in the current data to suggest that they could not proceed with the the next stage of unlocking under the roadmap as planned.

However, he added that most scientists are "firmly of the view" that there will be a third wave of the disease at some point this year.

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Speaking at the press briefing, the PM said: "We'll be bolstering our defences with booster jabs this autumn, we'll be continuing with testing and today I want to announce what we hope will be a further line of medical defence.

"The UK was the first country in the world to pioneer dexamethasone, which has saved a million lives globally and today we're creating a new antivirals taskforce to search for the most promising new medicines and support their development through clinical trials, with the aim of making them safely and rapidly available as early as the autumn.

"This means, for example, that if you test positive there might be a tablet you can take at home to stop the virus in its tracks and significantly reduce the chance of infection turning into more severe disease.

"Or, if you're living with someone who has tested positive, there might be a pill you could take for a few days to stop you getting the disease yourself."

He added: "By focusing on these antivirals we hope to lengthen the UK's leads in medicines and life sciences and to give ever-greater confidence to the people of this country that we continue on our path towards freedom."

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Speaking alongside Mr Johnson, the medical director of primary care for NHS England said tt has taken around six days for a positive research finding for a Covid-19 treatment to be put into practice.

Dr Nikita Kanani told the press briefing that the NHS was working internationally to identify effective treatments for Covid.

She thanked the more than one million people in the UK who have participated in a research trial so far.

"We know that over 22,000 lives have already been saved in the UK from the use of dexamethasone," Dr Kanani said.

She added: "There are a number of treatments at the moment that are being tested and refined, and what we've found is that it's taken about six days to go from a positive research finding to put that particular treatment into practice."

Commenting on antivirals, the prime minister said: "There are various shots we already have in our locker like dexamethasone. I think remdesivir is also used in some cases."

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He added that "there are various other treatments with names sounding a bit like Aztec divinities" before deferring to the expertise of Dr Kanani.

In a statement, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The UK is leading the world in finding and rolling out effective treatments for Covid-19, having identified dexamethasone, which has saved over a million lives worldwide, and tocilizumab.

“In combination with our fantastic vaccination programme, medicines are a vital weapon to protect our loved ones from this terrible virus.

“Modelled on the success of the vaccines and therapeutics taskforces, which have played a crucial part in our response to the pandemic, we are now bringing together a new team that will supercharge the search for antiviral treatments and roll them out as soon as the autumn.

“I am committed to boosting the UK’s position as a life science superpower and this new taskforce will help us beat Covid-19 and build back better.”