'Biggest step forward yet': Hancock says new Covid-19 drug Remdesivir could shorten recovery by 'four days'

The UK has made "probably the biggest step forward" in the treatment of coronavirus since the crisis began, Matt Hancock has said.

A treatment being trialled in the UK, Remdesivir, has already given "promising early results" which show coronavirus recovery could be shorted by "about four days".

The antiviral drug is being trialled on NHS patients with Covid-19, and if successful health officials will be "prioritising the use of this treatment where it will provide the greatest benefit," the health secretary said.

"This is probably the biggest step forward in the treatment of coronavirus since the crisis began," he added.

He warned, however, that only "very early steps" have been taken in the trial.

Speaking at the government's daily coronavirus update, Mr Hancock also confirmed 37,048 people have now died in the UK with coronavirus, an increase of 134 from Monday.

Mr Hancock said the UK can now begin to replenish its personal protective equipment (PPE) stockpiles after brokering new deals and increasing manufacture.

He told the daily Downing Street press conference there had been a "global scramble to acquire" PPE but said newly signed deals mean there will be a surplus of equipment.

“I can announce that we have now signed contracts to manufacture two billion items of PPE here in the UK.

“Around the world, we’ve signed deals with over 100 new suppliers including agreeing contracts for a further 3.7 billion gloves.

“While we continue to improve the logistics and work hard to get everyone the PPE they need, these new supplies mean we’re not simply keeping up with demand, we’re now able to begin to replenish our stockpiles.”

The health secretary was one of several government ministers who, on Saturday, publicly supported Dominic Cummings after many claimed he broke lockdown rules.

Despite Mr Hancock making announcements on the procurement of PPE and treatment, questions from journalists were dominated by Mr Cummings' apparent lockdown breach.

Again Mr Hancock supported the prime minister's top aide, saying he acted "within the guidelines" set out by the government.

“After all, the guidelines allow for exceptional circumstances, particularly with regards to childcare and we’ve stated before that if you’re unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance.”

It follows the resignation of Douglas Ross, a former Scotland minister who quit over the government's response to the story.

"I am faced with people who've missed funerals, people who couldn't be with loved ones as they were being treated or sadly died," Mr Ross told ITV News, "and I can't therefore look at them in the eye and say they were wrong and Mr Cummings was right".

He's the only minister to resign, but tens of backbench MPs - Tory and opposition - have called on Mr Cummings to resign.

Mr Hancock is speaking at the press conference alongside, John Newton, the professor in charge of the UK's coronavirus testing effort.

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