South Africa is considering using the drug dexamethasone to treat coronavirus patients, the country’s president said on Wednesday night.

In a televised address, President Cyril Ramaphosa said his government was greatly encouraged by news that the cheap and widely available steroid can help save critically ill patients.

“The Department of Health and the Ministerial Advisory Committee has recommended that dexamethasone can be considered for use on patients on ventilators and on oxygen supply,” the president said.

Researchers at the UK’s University of Oxford have found that dexamethasone reduced deaths by about one-third in patients on ventilators and one-fifth in patients who require oxygen.

The steroid is also locally manufactured in South Africa by one of the country’s major pharmaceutical companies.

“We believe that this will improve our management of the disease among those who are most severely affected,” Ramaphosa said.

He said COVID-19 has claimed 1,674 lives and infected 80,412 people in the country so far, while 44,331 patients – about 55% – have recovered.

The president urged South Africans to continue following the Health Ministry’s safety guidelines, warning that the virus will be around for many months to come.

He said studies have proven that the virus’ transmission slows down if people start wearing medical or cloth masks and cover their mouths and noses in public places.

Ramaphosa added that experts have advised against measures such as disinfectant tunnels as they have no proven benefit and may be harmful.

He also announced some relaxation in coronavirus restrictions, saying that restaurants will be allowed to have customers for “sit-down meals,” and businesses such as saloons, hotels, cinemas, casinos, and non-contact sports venues will open under strict conditions.

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