Boris Johnson announced the formation of the group of Government experts today, which it is hoped will “supercharge” the search for antiviral medications before the winter, when respiratory diseases are more prevalent.
It is hoped that antivirals could help to reduce infections and limit the impact of any new variants, and combined with vaccines would help keep rates and deaths down as a third wave looms.
They may also help to protect people who cannot take vaccines or those who are not fully protected after having the jab.
Speaking from Downing Street tonight the Prime Minister said: “If you test positive 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 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.”
And he said along with booster jabs and continued testing, he anticipated the medication could provide a “further line of medical defence” against the third wave that Mr Johnson said experts were convinced was coming down the line.
The taskforce will support the development of the drugs through clinical trials and also look at manufacturing opportunities.
Dr Nikita Kanani, medical director of primary care for NHS England, said the NHS was working internationally to identify effective treatments for Covid.
She said: “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.”
It comes as a further 33 deaths were recorded in the UK today within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, bringing the country’s total to 127,307. In Yorkshire, there were eight new deaths, giving a total of 10,922.
However the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that the lowest number of weekly deaths, where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, had been recorded since the week ending October 2.
The ONS said there were a total of 379 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending April 9.
Meanwhile, there were 2,524 new cases of coronavirus recorded yesterday.
Government data up to April 19 shows that of the 43,457,910 jabs given in the UK so far, 33,032,120 were first doses – a rise of 99,672 on the previous day.
Some 10,425,790 were second doses, an increase of 273,751.
The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said: “The speed at which vaccines and therapeutics such as dexamethasone have been identified and deployed against Covid-19 has been critical to the pandemic response. Antivirals in tablet form are another key tool for the response. They could help protect those not protected by or ineligible for vaccines. They could also be another layer of defence in the face of new variants of concern.”
However Mr Johnson also warned that “we don’t yet know the full extent of the protection that we are building up, the exact strength of our defences, and as we look at what is happening in other countries with cases now at record numbers around the world, we cannot delude ourselves that Covid has gone away”.
He added: “I see nothing in the data now that makes me think we are going to have to deviate in any way from the roadmap cautious but irreversible that we have set out.
“But the majority of scientific opinion in this country is still firmly of the view that there will be another wave of Covid at some stage this year.”