Molnupiravir is NZ's new drug to fight COVID-19 - but experts want better health measures

New Zealand has a new drug in the fight against COVID-19: molnupiravir.

The antiviral treatment is used to treat mild to moderate cases in high-risk adults to help prevent more severe symptoms.

However, a group of 150 doctors and scientists are calling for stronger measures like masks and ventilation to help avoid getting COVID-19 in the first place.

Merck Sharp & Dohme New Zealand managing director Paul Smith told Newshub molnupiravir will help reduce hospitalisations and death.

"In the clinical trials we did overseas it reduced hospitalisation and death by 30 percent."

The drug, with the brand name Lagevrio, is an antiviral medicine which can be prescribed by doctors to treat adults at risk of progressing to severe COVID-19.

"We need to have this in our back pocket ready to go for people who are infected and are at greater risk and in order to keep them at home and keep them away from the hospital."

There are enough courses of molnupiravir here to treat almost 30,000 people. You take four capsules in the morning and four in the evening for a total of five days.

It's used to treat early COVID-19 infection and has to be taken within five days of symptoms starting. But 150 doctors and scientists say instead of relying on treating it, our goal should still be to avoid getting it.

And they're calling for a stronger approach from the Government.

Urgent care physician Dr Kelvin Ward said measures need to be put in place to prevent recurring outbreaks.

"There's waning immunity both from vaccination and from infection, which means that we're likely to have ongoing recurrent waves of infection if we don't put other measures in place to try and limit the spread."

Ward said mask-wearing is key to reducing the spread of COVID.

"Masking is really important, masking in indoor public places where there is poor ventilation and masking in schools is part of that."

There were another 9000 cases on Thursday and 13 deaths. And as children head back to school on Monday, the risk rises. Masks in schools are currently optional, but if it was down to Health Minister Andrew Little they would be mandatory.

"I support the use of masks in schools The reality is for a lot of adults who get COVID, actually they get it from their children because they are big vectors of it."

While vaccines help prevent severe illness, immunologist Dr Anna Brooks says they don't protect against long COVID.

"Studies that are coming out now are suggestive that it's only a minor protection, so that really means don't get infected, and even if you have been infected don't think you're now bulletproof, you need to keep protecting because reinfections are happening."

As winter approaches, the next wave is not far away.