Denmark is first EU country to authorise pill for Covid-19

Denmark on Thursday recommended US drugmaker Merck's anti-Covid treatment molnupiravir for at-risk patients with symptoms, becoming the first EU country to do so.

A file photo showing Merck's anti-Covid treatment molnupiravir when it was at the experimental stage.
A file photo showing Merck's anti-Covid treatment molnupiravir when it was at the experimental stage. Photo: Merck & Co Inc/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

The pill-based treatment, marketed under the name Lagevrio, was backed for emergency use by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in mid-November, allowing individual EU countries to decide for themselves whether to use the pills even before being formally authorised.

Lagevrio has been approved since November in the UK and is in the process of being approved in the US.

“We are recommending the pill treatment because we believe that the benefits outweigh the harms for those patients who are most at risk of becoming severely ill with Covid-19,” Kirstine Moll Harboe at the Danish Health Authority said in a statement.

“At the same time we are fully aware that this is a new and unapproved treatment about which we do not yet have much knowledge.” 

Moll Harboe said the effects of the treatment would be closely monitored.

Denmark is suffering from a record wave of Covid-19 cases and an outbreak of the new Omicron variant, which is expected to become the dominant strain in Copenhagen this week. 

On Thursday, 9,999 new cases were reported, the highest figure for the 5.8 million population since the start of the pandemic.

“We hope that the treatment will help reduce the number of hospital admissions for patients at high risk of severe disease,” Moll Harboe said.

In Denmark, 517 people diagnosed with Covid-19 are currently in hospital, 61 of them in intensive care.

The full results of the clinical trial released on November 26th by Merck were disappointing as they showed a much lower efficacy than earlier reports based on interim data. 

According to the full results, the drug reduced the rate of hospitalisation and death for at-risk patients who took it shortly after infection by 30 percent — not 50 percent as previous results showed.

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”