"Today is a historic day for our country"
The UK has become the first country in the world to approve a pill used to treat Covid-19.
Molnupiravir will now be given twice a day to vulnerable patients who were recently diagnosed with the virus.
They must have at least one risk factor for developing severe illnesses such as obesity, old-age diabetes and heart disease.
It will be administered as soon as possible following a positive coronavirus test and within five days of the onset of symptoms.
The drug will also be able to be taken at home.
Developed by US drug companies and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, Molnupiravir is the first non-intravenous Covid medication.
Originally created to help treat the flu, the pill cut the risk of hospitalisation and death from Covid-19 by half during clinical trials.
The UK has now agreed to purchase 480,000 courses of it.
The first deliveries are expected within November 2021.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid labelled the development a “game-changer” for those who are immunosuppressed and vulnerable.
He added: “Today is a historic day for our country, as the UK is now the first country in the world to approve an antiviral that can be taken at home for Covid.”
The rapid approval of the pill comes as the country struggles to get a hold of the situation amid a soaring infection rate.
Britain currently has about 40,000 daily cases of Covid-19, according to the latest seven-day average, Reuters reports.
The UK Government said that its focus remains on administering vaccine boosters and vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds.
Independent pharmaceutical physician, Professor Penny Ward, welcomed the approval by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
However, she said the NHS needed to outline plans for a rollout, warning that supplies will likely be tight amid high demand.
Professor Ward said: “Comments made by Mr Javid today suggest that it may be made available via a clinical trial, presumably to investigate its effectiveness in vaccinated patients with breakthrough infections, as the original study incorporated unvaccinated adults.
“If given to everyone becoming unwell, the nearly half a million courses would not last very long given the more than 40,000 current daily case rate.”
However, a wider rollout is also expected in the near future with UK vaccines Minister Maggie Throup telling British Parliament:
“We are now working across government and the NHS to urgently get this treatment to patients initially through a national study so we can collect more data on how antivirals work in a mostly vaccinated population.”
Other countries including Australia, Singapore and South Korea have also made purchase agreements for the pill.