Boris Johnson announces government launch of new antiviral taskforce - here's what it will involve

Tuesday, 20th April 2021, 5:36 pm
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the launch of a new antiviral taskforce (Photo: Hollie Adams - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the launch of a new antiviral taskforce.

The taskforce is part of the Government’s medical defence plans, with plans for at-home Covid treatments to be rolled out in order to speed up recovery time for people who become infected with Covid-19, or to prevent those living with someone who has tested positive from getting the virus.

The Prime Minister announced the new taskforce at a press conference on Tuesday evening (20 April), where he was joined by Dr Nikita Kanani, medical director of primary care for NHS England.

Mr Johnson said the taskforce will seek out new medicines to “stop Covid-19 in its tracks”, and it is hoped that these antivirals could help to both reduce coronavirus infections and limit the impact of any new variants.

The antiviral treatments may also help to protect people who cannot take Covid vaccines or those who are not fully protected after receiving the jab.

Antiviral drugs are specifically used for treating viral infections and act by killing or preventing the growth of viruses.

Officials hope to find and bring two treatments online this year, which could mean that people with Covid, or those they have been in close contact with, could be offered antiviral medication in tablet form to take at home in order to stop the spread of the infection and to speed up recovery time.

The taskforce will also support the development of the drugs through clinical trials and look at manufacturing opportunities.

‘Our new Antivirals Taskforce will seek to develop innovative treatments’

The Prime Minister also announced that 19 out of 20 people who have received their first Covid jab are now returning for their second dose.

Addressing the vaccine rollout, Mr Johnson said: “The success of our vaccination programme has demonstrated what the UK can achieve when we bring together our brightest minds.”

He added: “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.”

Dr Nikita Kanani, medical director of primary care for NHS England, said: “The NHS has put research into reality at record speed during the pandemic and this taskforce will now help us to identify and roll out even more new, convenient treatments for patients with Covid-19.”

Regarding the new antiviral taskforce, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also said: “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.”

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.”