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Face Coverings And Drug Treatments Will Help The UK Manage Coronavirus Until A Vaccine Is Found

At his first press conference since he was hospitalised with the virus, Boris Johnson said the UK was "past the peak" of the outbreak and "on the downward slope".

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Face coverings and drug treatments will be part of the UK's long-term plan to manage the coronavirus before a vaccine is found, the government said on Thursday, as Boris Johnson promised to outline a "comprehensive plan" for easing lockdown restrictions next week.

Speaking at his first press conference since he was hospitalised with the virus, the prime minister said that the UK was "past the peak" of the outbreak and "on the downward slope".

The first stage of Britain's exit strategy from its current lockdown measures will be shared with the public next week, Johnson said, with a focus on reopening sections of the economy, letting more children go back to school, and making it easier for people to safely travel to work.

The key test for being able to relax some restrictions was being able to ensure that the average number of people infected by any one person with the virus — known as the reproduction rate or R number — remained below one, preventing an exponential second wave, Johnson said.

The prime minister signalled that face coverings will become a key part of life over the next months, despite government's scientists previously advising that the evidence in favour of the public wearing masks was weak.

"As part of coming out of the lockdown, I do think that face coverings will be useful both for epidemiological reasons, but also for giving people confidence that they can go back to work," Johnson said.

Drug treatments will play an important role in the UK's ability to manage COVID-19 cases before a vaccine is found, the government's scientific experts said in response to a question from BuzzFeed News.

A trial of the antiviral drug Remdesivir in the US has shown a benefit in terms of the time of recovery for patients.

"This is a really promising first step," said chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance.

"It's definitely not a magic bullet to cure this, but it does show that drugs are going to be possible to have an effect on this virus and therefore there will be more that come along, and ultimately it may need to be a combination of drugs that comes together to make this really effective."

The US study was "very encouraging", chief medical officer Chris Whitty said, but he cautioned that more peer-reviewed research on the drug's efficacy with coronavirus patients was needed.

"I am very confident that if you look back at this disease from one or two years out, we will have significantly better treatments in the future than we have today."

Drugs trials in the UK are "recruiting at an extraordinary rate", Whitty said.