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Taiwan provisionally approves dexamethasone as coronavirus treatment

TAIPEI, Aug 4 (Reuters) - Taiwan provisionally approved the use of dexamethasone, a cheap and widely-used steroid, to treat the new coronavirus, as the island faces a shortfall of the antiviral drug remdesivir after the United States bought nearly all global supplies.

Taiwan Centres for Disease Control Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang told reporters on Tuesday that medical experts had decided to provisionally allow dexamethasone to be listed as a COVID-19 treatment but that procedures still needed to be completed before it could be given to any patients.

Taiwan has reported 476 cases of the new coronavirus, including seven deaths. Most of the cases are imported and almost all have recovered. It has kept numbers low thanks to early and effective prevention work.

Taiwan's official Central News Agency said this week that stocks on the island of U.S. drugmaker Gilead's COVID-19 medicine remdesivir were low.

Taiwan had originally ordered 2,000 doses to arrive by the end of July, but had only 78 in stock, enough to treat 54 seriously-ill patients, the report said.

Remdesivir is the only drug so far authorised in the European Union to treat patients with severe symptoms of COVID-19.

Remdesivir is in high demand after the intravenously-administered medicine helped to shorten hospital recovery times in a clinical trial.

But in results announced in June, a trial by researchers in the United Kingdom showed dexamethasone as the first drug to save lives of COVID-19 patients in what scientists said was a major breakthrough in the coronavirus pandemic.

Japan last month also approved the use of dexamethasone to treat COVID-19. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)