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Australia to buy Merck’s COVID-19 pill, Victoria cases hit record

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Sydney (Reuters) – Australia will buy 300,000 courses of Merck & Co’s experimental antiviral pill, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday, as Victoria logged the highest number of daily COVID-19 infections of any state in the country since the pandemic began.

Molnupiravir, which would be the first oral antiviral medication for COVID-19 if it gets regulatory approval, could halve the chances of dying or being hospitalised for people most at risk of contracting severe COVID-19, according to experts.

“These treatments mean that we are going to be able to live with the virus,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Nine News on Tuesday as Australia aims to reopen its borders next month for fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents.

Molnupiravir capsules have to be taken twice a day for five days by adult patients for a course of 10, Morrison said.

The drug is expected to be available in Australia by early next year if approved by the country’s drug regulator, Morrison said. Merck expects to produce 10 million courses of the treatment by the end of 2021.

South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and Malaysia have all said they are in talks to buy the potential treatment, while the Philippines is running a trial on the pill.

Australia, meanwhile, is stepping up its vaccination rate, with Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, and the capital Canberra enduring a weeks-long lockdown to combat the highly infectious Delta variant. The national first-dose rate in the adult population topped 80% on Tuesday morning.

A total of 1,763 new infections were reported in Victoria, exceeding the previous daily high of 1,488 on Saturday, with the state looking to start reopening once full vaccination levels in its adult population reaches 70%, expected around the end of October, from 53% now.

Dominic Perrottet, who was elected as the new premier of New South Wales on Tuesday, said the state was on track to exit lockdown on Oct. 11, the first Monday after it expects 70% of its population over 16 to be fully vaccinated. read more

Daily infections in the state fell to the lowest in seven weeks on Tuesday at 608 new cases, the majority in state capital Sydney, down from 623 on Monday. Seven new deaths were recorded.

Even with the Delta outbreaks, Australia still has relatively low coronavirus numbers, with around 115,800 cases. Total deaths stood at 1,357, with the mortality rate from the current Delta outbreak lower than during last year due to higher inoculation among the vulnerable population.

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