VULNERABLE Brits will get Covid-busting drugs at home from next week under radical plans to slash hospitalisations.
Over 50s and high-risk adults will be offered antiviral treatments shortly after testing positive for the virus.
A first of its kind, the drug works by forcing errors into the coronavirus’s genetics when it reproduces
The drugs have been proven to cut the risk of severe illness by up to 70 per cent.
As well as helping thousands stay well, the pilot will also ease pressure on the NHS over winter by reducing the need for beds.
Around 5,000 patients will be given the antiviral drug molnupiravir as part of the trial run by Oxford University.
Studies have shown it cuts the risk of hospitalisation and death by around a third in those with mild symptoms.
Chief investigator Chris Butler, a Professor of Primary Care at Oxford University said: “It is early on in the illness, when people are still being cared for in the community, that treatments for Covid-19 could have their greatest benefit.
“This new trial will test whether exciting, new antiviral treatments that are more specific to Covid-19 help people in the community recover faster and reduce the need for treatment in hospital.”
It comes as:
? Read our Omicron variant live blog for the latest news
And the highest-risk Brits – such as cancer and transplant patients – will also be offered Ronapreve.
Manufactured by the US-based firms Regeneron and Roche, the £2,000 drug is made from antibodies harvested from those who have already recovered, and can cut chances of falling seriously ill by 70 per cent.
Sajid Javid said the first effective at-home treatments marked a “historic milestone in our battle against the virus”.
The Health Secretary said: “This opens up a new era for the treatment of Covid-19, one where we can begin to cover every phase of contracting this deadly disease – whether it be before you catch it, just after you catch it, if you develop symptoms or if you require hospital care.”
Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said:
“Antivirals will be a vital intervention for years to come, helping to protect those that can’t mount the same antibody response to the vaccines.
“This is really positive news for the future of our response to Covid-19.”
It comes after experts warned cases of the Omicron variant could cause 1,000 hospitalisations a day by the end of the year.
Leaked minutes from Sage seen by the BBC show that if extra restrictions aren’t implemented, then there will be a rise in hospitalisations.
At present there are around 680 people a day being admitted to hospital with the bug.
The minutes from the meeting state: “With the speed of growth seen, decision makers will need to consider response measures urgently to reduce transmission if the aim is to reduce the likelihood of unsustainable pressure on the NHS.”
The confirmed number of Omicron cases today rose to 568, but scientists fear the super-mutated variant is spreading more than three times faster than Delta, with many now estimating it could become the dominant strain within weeks.
Only days ago the Government was urging Brits to press ahead with festive party plans and said they had no intention to push the panic button.
But rapidly rising cases of the mutation – and evidence vaccines may not be as effective – have bounced the PM into rapid action.
Scientists warn that up to 1,000 Brits each day could now be catching the highly contagious form of the virus — with new cases doubling every three days.
But having a Pfizer booster jab will protect against the Omicron variant, new data suggests.
The promising findings of initial lab studies come as the Government urges all Brits to get their boosters as soon as they are eligible.
The Sun’s Jab’s Army has called upon all Brits to come forward and have their life-saving shot, with volunteers also needed to drive the rollout.
Using UK Health Security Agency data, Professor Alastair Grant from the University of East Anglia calculates that up to one in 50 cases are now caused by Omicron — around 1,000 a day.
And he says the strain’s R rate, which measures the number of people infected by each case, could be as high as 3.47 — while the figure has been around 1.0 since August with Delta.
Prof Grant explained: “Numbers of Covid cases likely to be the Omicron variant are increasing rapidly in England.
“This gives a worst-case scenario of 2,500 cases so far.
“It is more effective at infecting people through a balance of escaping immunity and some increase in transmissibility.
“The biggest concern in the short term is pressure on hospitals because at the beginning of January those hospitals will already be having a hard time.”