Antiviral pill halves deaths from Covid

Coronavirus in numbers: UK cases rise by 29,547

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The drug molnupiravir exceeded expectations in a trial of 775 infected people who risked serious illness, US firm Merck said. Of those who took it, 7.3 percent were taken to hospital or died within a month, compared with 14 percent given a dummy pill. Merck research labs head Dr Dean Li said: “When you see a 50 percent reduction in hospitalisation or death, that’s a substantial clinical impact.” If approved, molnupiravir will be the first oral treatment shown to treat Covid.

Meanwhile, the NHS said 863,460 people in England have had a booster jab, including vulnerable groups and those with weakened immune systems.

Covid vaccines are thought to have prevented 24 million infections and more than 120,000 deaths. But hospital leaders warned the NHS was under severe strain and could face its most difficult winter.

There were 4,916 people in hospital in England with Covid on Thursday, more than twice the number at the same time last year.

The Office for National Statistics said about one in 85 people in England was infected in the week to September 25, up slightly from the previous period.

Saffron Cordery, of NHS Providers, said: “No one should be under any illusions about the scale of the task we face in the months ahead.”

Infectious diseases expert Prof Mark Woolhouse said the Covid patient numbers must “fall significantly before pressure on the NHS starts to build up during the winter”.

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