Pills to take at home could help combat Covid-19 during flu season

The steroid dexamethasone has been identified as improving survival rates in patients with COVID-19

The steroid dexamethasone has been identified as improving survival rates in patients with COVID-19 and experiencing respiratory problems - Credit: Archant

'Innovative' antiviral home treatments effective at stopping the spread of Covid-19 will be rolled out in the autumn to help combat infection spikes, the government has said.

The aim of the new Antivirals Taskforce is to have at least two pills - either in tablet or capsule form - that people can take at home following a positive coronavirus test, or after exposure to someone with the virus.

The government is also hopeful the drugs will speed up recovery for those already suffering with the virus, and help stave off the effects of new variants as we enter the winter flu season. 

The government's chief scientific adviser 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.

“The Taskforce will help ensure the most promising antivirals are available for deployment as quickly as possible.”

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According to the government, the RECOVERY trial it backed identified the benefits of dexamethasone in reducing mortality by 20pc in patients requiring oxygen support and 35pc for ventilated patients.

Since the drug was authorised on June 16 last year, the government claims it has since saved 22,000 lives in the UK and an estimated million worldwide. 

Another trial more recently showed the benefits of tocilizumab and sarilumab - with tocilizumab reducing the relative risk of death for a patient on oxygen by 14pc when administered alongside dexamethasone.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Co

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said the new antiviral treatments are key in the battle against Covid-19 - Credit: PA

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “In combination with our fantastic vaccination programme, medicines are a vital weapon to protect our loved ones from this terrible virus."

He went on: "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.”