The World Health Organization (WHO) chief on Wednesday welcomed positive news from a trial in the UK on dexamethasone, a common steroid, which showed recovery in patients severely ill with COVID-19.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a thrice-weekly webinar that the organization had on Feb. 11 early on during the novel coronavirus breakout convened a research and innovation forum.

"Yesterday, there was the welcome news of positive initial results from the recovery trial in the United Kingdom.

"Dexamethasone, a common steroid, has been shown to have a beneficial effect on those patients severely ill with COVID-19," he said.

Researchers in the UK had announced Tuesday that dexamethasone -- a cheap and widely available drug -- cuts the risk of death in severely ill coronavirus patients.

"According to the early findings shared with WHO, for patients on oxygen alone, the treatment was shown to reduce mortality by about one fifth," said Tedros.

He said that for patients requiring a ventilator, mortality was reduced by about one third.

"This is very welcome news for those patients with severe illness, these drugs should only be used under close clinical supervision," Tedros said.

He noted the drug is among therapeutics that can be used to tackle the virus, including those with milder symptoms.

The WHO will update its clinical guidance to reflect how and when dexamethasone should be used to treat COVID-19.

Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO's executive director emergencies, said that the news from the UK is "very significant," but that the full data on the drug's use still needs examination.

"It is one of the many breakthroughs we're going to need in order to deal with COVID-19 effectively, and we should be celebrating that today.

"But it's still just preliminary data from one study," said Ryan.

The Johns Hopkins University in the United States has reported that there are more than 8.2 million cases of COVID-19 in the world, with more than 4 million recoveries and 445,000 deaths confirmed in the world.

The UK has recorded more than 300,000 cases and more than 42,000 deaths, the highest in Europe.