A trial of a drug championed by Donald Trump will be carried out in British communities, in an attempt to keep vulnerable and elderly people out of hospital, if they contract coronavirus.

More than 500 GP practices are now recruiting pensioners, and over-50s with underlying health conditions, to see if giving them the antimalarial hydroxychloroquine lessens the symptoms of covid.

Hydroxychloroquine, which Trump hoped would be a cure for coronavirus, has so far proved ineffective at reversing late-stage disease, but scientists believe it may help if given sooner.

Chris Butler, professor of primary care in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences,  said: “With enough people recruited, this trial will give us the vital information we need to understand whether existing drugs can help people recover sooner and at home, without needing to be admitted to hospital – a significant milestone in the course of this pandemic.

“As soon as we find that any one of the drugs in our trial is making a critical difference to people’s health, we want it to be part of clinical practice as soon as it can be introduced.”

People are eligible to join the trial if they have had symptoms – a continuous new or worsening cough, or a high temperature – for fewer than 15 days.

Participants will be closely monitored for the first 28 days of the trial, with a health record notes review taking place for up to three months.

Participants in a second arm of the trial will be given the antibiotic azithromycin and researchers are hoping one, or both of the drugs will slow or halt the progression of the virus and prevent the need for hospital admission.

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