Government launches antivirals taskforce to help country ‘learn to live' with Covid

New taskforce will lead development of coronavirus treatments in tablet or capsule form
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves following a media briefing in Downing Street on Covid-19. Photo: Alamy

By Adam Payne

21 Apr 2021

Boris Johnson has said the country must learn to live with the coronavirus as the government launches an antivirals taskforce that will develop treatments for the illness which people can take at home.

The Taskforce intends to start rolling out treatments as soon as early as the Autumn, the Prime Minister said, in what he described as "another vital defence" against future spikes in cases.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference on Tuesday, Johnson said scientists expected there to be "another wave" of Covid-19 this year.

However, the development of new antiviral treatments which people can take at home will help the UK "learn to live with this virus," he said.

The taskforce will aim to make at least two effective anti-viral treatments available this year, either in tablet or capsule form.

They will be designed to speed up recovery time and reduce transmission and could be made available both to those who test positive for the coronavirus as well as people they live with.

“The success of our vaccination programme has demonstrated what the UK can achieve when we bring together our brightest minds," Johnson said.

“Our new antivirals taskforce will seek to develop innovative treatments you can take at home to stop Covid-19 in its tracks. These could provide another vital defence against any future increase in infections and save more lives".

The new taskforce, which will work alongside the existing therapeutics taskforce, will "ensure the most promising antivirals are available for deployment as quickly as possible," said Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser.

"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.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said the taskforce would "supercharge the search for antiviral treatments and roll them out as soon as the autumn".

Johnson told the press conference that 33m people in the UK had received their first dose of the coronavirus, while 10.4m had received a second dose.

Adam Payne is a reporter at CSW's sister titles PoliticsHome and The House magazine. A version of this story first appeared on PoliticsHome.

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