The Indian Council of Medical Research on Monday authorised physicians to use the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a potentially preventive measure for asymptomatic people closely working with patients infected with Covid-19.

The medical body’s National Task Force for the coronavirus, however, warned that the measure must not instil a “sense of false security” and urged all individuals to continue taking all preventive measures and practise social distancing to avoid getting infected.

The drug will be only given to asymptomatic healthcare workers who are involved in the treatment of suspected or confirmed patients of Covid-19, and household contacts who are looking after people who tested positive.

Citing scientific findings and pre-clinical data in favour of the drug for treating Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, the National Task Force recommended doses of hydroxychloroquine to be given to high-risk individuals. The protocol recommended has been approved by the Drug Controller General of India for restricted use in emergency situations, it added.

“The drug will be given only to individuals under these two circumstances and only as a preventive measure,” ICMR Director General Balram Bhargava said at a press briefing. “For this, we have enough stock of the drug to make it available for all high-risk individuals.”

The medical body said that all individuals who are given hydroxychloroquine should remain at home while on prophylactic therapy. “As recommended by the said Task Force, the drug should only be given on the prescription of a registered medical practitioner,” it added. “The contraindications mentioned in the recommendations should strictly be followed.”

In case an individual who has been given the drug exhibits symptoms apart from that of Covid-19, they are advised to immediately seek medical treatment from the doctor who prescribed the dosage.

United States President Donald Trump has also been actively advocating the use of the anti-malarial drug to treat the novel coronavirus, which till now has no cure. In a tweet on Saturday, Trump said: “Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game-changers in the history of medicine.”

On Thursday, Trump promised that this common derivative of the anti-malarial drug chloroquine would be available to coronavirus patients with a prescription “almost immediately”. He said that it had “very encouraging early results”.

Ongoing research and studies into the coronavirus pandemic have also suggested that the drug chloroquine along with its derivatives could be effective in treating Covid-19. One study published in Nature last week found that hydroxychloroquine and a drug called remdesivir were effective in stopping Covid-19 spread in vitro or test-tube experiments. “[Hydroxychloroquine] appears to be the drug of choice for large-scale use due to its availability, proven safety record, and a relatively low cost,” the study said.

Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has killed seven people and infected over 400 people in India. The Indian Council of Medical Research’s last update said a total of 415 people were infected as of Monday morning. Globally, the coronavirus has infected 3,49,211 people, and killed 15,308, people, according to an estimate by Johns Hopkins University, which is live-tracking cases reported by the World Health Organization and additional sources.