PM to announce future Covid waves will be treated with drugs not restrictions on our lives

The government is hoping antivirals will be able to treat future Covid waves Credit: PA

The core of the strategy to deal with another frightening Covid-19 wave will be pharmaceutical and medical interventions rather than lockdowns and restrictions on our lives, the PM will announce this afternoon.

But this means laying in stocks of antivirals like paxlovid and molnupiravir, to protect the vulnerable, and that will cost money.

And a second source of cost is a testing and surveillance system to catch a new wave early enough to distribute the antivirals. Which is also far from cheap.

Hence the dispute this morning between the Treasury and the Deptartment of Health and Social Care.

The Treasury seems to have won and Sajid Javid will “reprioritise” from within his existing budget.

A government source confirmed: “A minimum level of response needs to be maintained so that we have the ability to rapidly scale up and deal with future waves through pharmaceutical interventions rather than restrictions - as we did with Omicron.”

UPDATE: To keep us safe, and to keep the economy open, there has to be fairly extensive Covid testing, surveillance and genome sequencing regime.

Without it, we wouldn’t know if a new and dangerous strain were here, till too late to contain it with antivirals and booster vaccines

As I said earlier, this monitoring regime - plus the perceived imperative of maintaining adequate stocks of antivirals - is pricey.

Over the weekend the row between the Department of Health and the Treasury has not been about new money to pay for it, though it was before, but has been a dispute about whether this Covid insurance policy was necessary at allThe Health Secretary Sajid Javid wanted it. Sunak was sceptical.

In the end, Javid won this argument and will pay for it by cutting other programmes.

One big question is what NHS spending will now be cut to pay for the Covid containment scheme and by how much.

This feels pretty significant given how passionately successive health secretaries have argued for billions of additional pounds just to maintain the quality of service, and how the NHS faces a huge treatment backlog.

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