After a week of criticism over the government's lack of mass testing, Matt Hancock and deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam used Friday's press conference to try and move the focus to other methods for tackling the coronavirus outbreak. The Health Secretary reiterated that social distancing remains the best way to prevent spread of the disease and called on the public to resist the sunny weather this weekend and remain indoors. When it comes to treating those already infected, Hancock said clinical trials could be key.
Hancock said the UK is a world leader in clinical trials and there has been a big push within government to unlock this potential to help with the recovery route out from the outbreak. There are three national clinical trials covering each stage of the disease – primary care, hospital care and critical care – with one trial put together in nine days. These trials are focussed on using drugs already in circulation to treat the illness. They are testing a number of medicines: Lopinavir-Ritonavir, commonly used to treat HIV; Dexamethasone, a type of steroid use in a range of conditions to reduce inflammation; and Hydroxychloroquine, a treatment for malaria.
Van-Tam spoke of his optimism for the clinical trials. However, he suggested that even if things go to plan, effective treatments probably won't be confirmed or able to be rolled out for a couple of months. As James says on Coffee House, within government there is a sense that a few months is a very long time when it comes to the economic fallout that could ensue from the lockdown continuing indefinitely. It follows that clinical treatment can only serve as one piece of the puzzle.