The U.K. was the first country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine; it has now become the first to approve an at-home treatment for COVID. On Thursday, the medicines regulator, MHRA, green-lit the antiviral drug molnupiravir, produced by Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and Merck & Co. and shown in trials to halve the risk of hospitalization or death in those with mild to moderate disease.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid called it a “historic day for our country.” For once that might not be an overstatement. Beyond Britain, the new drug should be a reminder of the importance of antivirals in the fight against this and future pandemics. Friday’s announcement by Pfizer Inc. of even better results for its home remedy — an 89% reduction of hospitalizations and deaths in late-stage trials — suggest it won’t be far behind. Pfizer, whose shares jumped on the news, is seeking emergency use authorization in the U.S.

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