People in the UK could be offered pills to treat Covid at home from autumn this year thanks to a new antivirals taskforce being set up by the No10.
Health chiefs today said they will build a team of scientists dedicated to finding ways for people to recover from the virus at home.
No drugs have been decided on but the government is already in talks with pharmaceutical firms about 'promising' antiviral treatments being developed.
Most research so far has focused on saving hospital patients and there are currently no at-home therapies for the virus. People who aren't severely ill are generally told to rest and take paracetamol or ibuprofen.
Now are banking on experts finding two treatments that people can have delivered and take at home from later this year. They will be offered to people who have tested positive for Covid or who have been in close contact with an infected person.
The panel will be made up of government staff, academic experts and members of pharmaceutical companies and the chair's job will be publicly advertised.
They are committed to finding 'novel antiviral medicines', the Department of Health said, meaning drugs not currently being used by the NHS are being developed.
Boris Johnson said the drugs could 'provide another vital defence against any future increase in infections and save more lives'.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the plan to develop at-home treatments at a Downing Street press conference tonight, when he said science is helping the UK get back to normal
Treatments would be given to people who test positive for the coronavirus or who have been in close contact with someone who has. They could be prescribed by a doctor and given to people to take at home (Pictured: A woman at a test centre in Hertfordshire)
'Medicines are a vital weapon to protect our loved ones from this terrible virus,' said Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
'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.'
Sir Patrick Vallance, Britain's chief scientific adviser, added: '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.
'The Taskforce will help ensure the most promising antivirals are available for deployment as quickly as possible.'
All adults in the UK will have been offered a vaccine by the autumn and teenagers may have had jabs, too, but experts don't expect these to give full protection.
Some people are unable to get vaccinated and others don't get total immunity – especially if they vaccines are rendered less effective by new mutated variants.
Scientists expect coronavirus will keep circulating and inevitably keep making people ill and killing them, the same way that flu does in normal years.
Developing pills to treat Covid at home, they hope, will help people to nip the illness in the bud and reduce the numbers getting so ill they need admitting to hospital.
Antiviral drugs work by interfering with the virus and stopping it reproducing in the body, rather than treating symptoms – this is the same way that antibiotics work against bacteria.
Remdesivir is one antiviral that hit headlines earlier in the pandemic and was used to treat Covid patients for some time – it still is used in the US – but studies failed to prove it worked.
There aren't other antivirals routinely used to treat Covid, but clinical trials are ongoing.
One already in trials is molnupiravir, which was originally designed to tackle flu but worked against Covid in trials on hamsters and is now being studied in humans.
Molnupiravir, made by the pharmaceutical firm Merck, 'continues to show promise as a potential treatment for non-hospitalised patients,' the company said after their second phase study. They decided it was not effective for seriously ill people.
Another, called Tollovir, is being trialled on people by the company Todos Medical in Israel.
Todos Medical said past research had shown the drug could work against coronaviruses in general and that it had potential to 'significantly reduce' the severity of Covid.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: 'The success of our vaccination programme has demonstrated what the UK can achieve when we bring together our brightest minds.
'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.'