Asia-Pacific News

Australia to buy Merck's Covid-19 pill; Victoria cases hit record

Key Points
  • Australia will buy 300,000 doses of Merck & Co's experimental antiviral pill, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday.
  • Molnupiravir, which would be the first oral antiviral medication for Covid-19 if it gets regulatory approval, could halve the chances of dying or being hospitalized for people most at risk.
  • Victoria logged the highest number of daily Covid-19 infections of any state in the country since the pandemic began.

In this article

Newly built Merck research facility located at 213 E Grand Ave in South San Francisco.
JasonDoiy | iStock Unreleased | Getty Images

Australia will buy 300,000 doses of Merck & Co's experimental antiviral pill, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday, as Victoria logged the highest number of daily Covid-19 infections of any state in the country since the pandemic began.

Molnupiravir, which would be the first oral antiviral medication for Covid-19 if it gets regulatory approval, could halve the chances of dying or being hospitalized for people most at risk of contracting severe Covid-19, according to experts.

"These treatments mean that we are going to be able to live with the virus," Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Nine News on Tuesday as Australia aims to reopen its borders next month for fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents. The drug is expected to be available in Australia by early next year.

VIDEO4:2404:24
Merck could seek emergency FDA nod for Covid pill this week: Gottlieb

Merck said last week it plans to seek U.S. emergency use authorization for the pill as soon as possible and make regulatory applications worldwide.

Australia is stepping up its vaccination rate, with Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, and the capital Canberra enduring a weeks-long lockdown to combat the highly infectious delta variant. The national first-dose rate in the adult population is expected to top 80% later on Tuesday.

A total of 1,763 new infections were reported in Victoria, exceeding the previous daily high of 1,488 on Saturday, with the state looking to start reopening once full vaccination levels in its adult population reaches 70%, expected around the end of October, from 53% now.

"Vaccination is how we will curtail the growth in these numbers, vaccination is how we will open up and be free," state Premier Daniel Andrews said during a media briefing.

Sydney, the country's largest city, is poised to exit its lockdown on Oct. 11, the first Monday after it expects 70% of its population over 16 to be fully vaccinated, as daily cases fell to the lowest in seven weeks on Tuesday. New South Wales reported 608 new cases, the majority in state capital Sydney, down from 623 on Monday, and seven new deaths.

Even with the delta outbreaks, Australia still has relatively low coronavirus numbers, with around 115,800 cases. Total deaths stood at 1,357, with the mortality rate from the current delta outbreak lower than during last year due to higher inoculation among the vulnerable population.