A search for simple treatments for Covid that can be taken at home has been launched by British PM Boris Johnson.
He said he hoped pills or capsules could be available by the autumn to help fight a widely anticipated third wave.
The aim would be to give them to people who have tested positive or been exposed to someone who has.
The government wants to encourage efforts to find treatments that stop infected people from becoming seriously ill.
An antiviral taskforce is being set up to oversee the research and future trials. As yet there are no treatments identified that could be used but there are thought to be a number of drugs being looked at that could work by stopping the virus replicating.
For the first time since September the latest UK figures show fewer than 2,000 Covid-19 patients in hospital. But Johnson acknowledged soaring cases overseas and growing warnings from scientists that there will be another wave this year.
“As we look at what is happening in other countries, with cases now at record numbers around the world, we cannot delude ourselves that Covid has gone away,” he said.
“The majority of scientific opinion in this country is still firmly of the view that there will be another wave of Covid at some stage this year and so we must, as far as possible, learn to live with this disease as we live with other diseases.”
The focus on antiviral treatments that can lessen the impact of an infection could be a vital tool when the next wave arrives.
Covid vaccines will reduce infection numbers but there will be people who remain unprotected either because the jab has not worked for them or they did not get it.
The antiviral taskforce will seek out new medicines to “stop the virus in its tracks”, hopefully producing simple treatments that can be taken at home.
Chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said antiviral drugs “could help protect those not protected by vaccines. They could also be another layer of defence in the face of new variants of concern”.