MATT Hancock has announced the UK trial of a potential new treatment for coronavirus, describing it as “probably the biggest step forward” in finding a way to tackle the killer infection since the health crisis began.

The UK Government’s Health Secretary told the daily Downing St news briefing that Remdesivir – an anti-viral drug that had been used against Ebola - had shown some “promising early results” on Covid-19 patients with suggestions the recovery period from the disease could be shortened by some four days.

Highlighting how one of Britain’s greatest strengths was its life sciences research, he said the country was now leading the world on clinical trials to find a vaccine and a treatment that could defeat the virus.

Mr Hancock explained: “The very nature of scientific inquiry is that not every project will bear fruit but I’m determined that we will explore every possible avenue. The recovery trial is the world’s largest trial of potential coronavirus treatments and because our NHS is a universal system we are all a part of, we have some of the best data and can do some of the best research.

“Today, I can announce we are beginning a new trial for selected NHS patients of an antiviral drug called Remdesivir…We will be prioritising the use of this treatment where it will provide the greatest benefit.”

He added: “This is probably the biggest step forward in the treatment of coronavirus since the crisis began. These are very early steps but we are determined to support the science and back the project that showed promise.”

Remdesivir destroys a part of Covid-19 to stop it reproducing and has become the nearest thing clinicians have to an effective treatment for the infection.

Japan and Americas have already made urgent arrangements to provide early access to the drug ahead of a marketing agreement.

Elsewhere at the press conference, Mr Hancock said Britain could begin to replenish its Personal Protective Equipment stockpiles after brokering new deals and increasing manufacture.

He announced the Government had signed contracts to manufacture two billion items of PPE in the UK and pointed out that around the world deals had been signed with over 100 new suppliers including agreeing contracts for a further 3.7bn gloves.

"While we continue to improve the logistics and work hard to get everyone the PPE they need, these new supplies mean we're not simply keeping up with demand, we're now able to begin to replenish our stockpiles," he added.