New Zealand has followed Australia to purchase a new COVID-19 antiviral treatment that can prevent hospitalisations from the deadly virus.
As Jacinda Ardern returns to Wellington for the country’s next phase of the pandemic, she has revealed New Zealand will buy 60,000 courses of molnupiravir from US pharmaceutical company Merck, Sharp & Dohme (MSD).
“Antiviral medicines are an additional tool the government is adding to our toolbox to fight COVID-19,” Ms Ardern said.
“The most important thing people can do to prevent themselves, children and vulnerable people getting COVID is to get vaccinated.
“However it’s important we have medicines to help those who pick up the virus to avoid having to go to hospital.”
Molnupiravir is an oral-based treatment, which MSD says is effective in stopping the replication of the virus if used early after COVID-19 infection.
Patients are asked to take eight capsules daily for five days.
Ms Ardern says New Zealand’s purchase order of 60,000 treatments is not an expectation of forthcoming Kiwi COVID-19 cases of the virus, but is in line per capita with Australia’s 300,000 courses.
The United States and several Asian nations have also pre-ordered the drug, with the US paying $US1.2 billion for 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir.
If New Zealand and Australia, which have not revealed the costs of their orders, are paying the same amount, it equates to $NZ1016 or $A966 per treatment.
Ms Ardern made the announcement after a four-day tour of the North Island’s east, including several communities with low vaccination rates.
Whether from the Ardern effect or other factors, NZ’s vaccination rate has shot up in recent days – including record numbers of Maori.
Kiwi vaccination rates lag Australia’s, with 79 per cent of the eligible population at least partially vaccinated and 54 per cent double-dosed.
Cases have steadily risen in the week since the government green-lit a relaxation of rules in locked-down Auckland.
Almost 100 cases were reported on the weekend, including 60 on Sunday.
The Delta outbreak has also taken in adjoining regions, including Waikato, Northland and Bay of Plenty.
More than half New Zealand’s population is under lockdown.