Molnupiravir has just been approved by Britain’s national medicines regulatory agency—the first in the world to do so.

Molnupiravir, made by Merck, a big pharma firm, and a Florida-based biotech called Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, is the first oral antiviral medicine available to treat covid-19. The approval marks another milestone in the world’s fight against covid-19.

Other countries are also working quickly to approve the new medicine, which has provoked keen interest.

Last month the interim results of a trial found that patients with a risk factor for covid-19 were 50% less likely to be hospitalised or die if the oral antibiotic was taken in the first five days after symptoms.

Britain has secured 480,000 courses of molnupiravir, and sales of the drug are already brisk. America, Australia, Britain, the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are some of the countries that have secured deals, or are in the process of doing so.