Covid wave in China triggers widespread drugs shortage

An unprecedented wave of Covid infections in China has triggered widespread drug shortage, as people scramble to buy fever medicines and painkillers to alleviate flu-like symptoms, according to a media report.

The panic buying has spread outside mainland China’s borders, with the generic versions of Tylenol and Advil sold out at drugstores in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and as far as Australia, prompting some local pharmacies to limit sales, CNN reported.

Even home remedies such as canned peaches are being snapped up by people looking for ways to fight Covid, the report said.

The situation mirrors shortages seen in the United States and Canada over children’s painkillers, which are in high demand because of the proliferation of respiratory viruses.

The health chief of Hong Kong, a special administrative region with a separate system of government from the Chinese mainland, urged people to refrain from hoarding cold medicines, asking them “not to overact”, CNN reported.

At five drugstores in the commercial district of Wan Chai, the drug Panadol, the local brand name for Tylenol, has been sold out for two weeks, salespersons told CNN.

One salesman, who gave his name as Simon, said the shortage is due to buyers purchasing in bulk to send to their friends and relatives in the mainland.

When his store does manage to get hold of some supply, he is able to provide delivery to longstanding customers in China through a complex process that takes about two weeks, costing between $19 and $26 per 2 kg.

“We send the drugs by mail to Macao, where our agents pick them up and then hand deliver them across the border to Zhuhai,” he said, adding that the couriers must quarantine once they reach the mainland.

Macao is another special administrative region of China, while Zhuhai is a southern mainland Chinese city which it borders.

Current rules don’t allow medicines to be mailed directly from Hong Kong to mainland China, according to the salespersons. Sending agents directly from Hong Kong, which also shares a land border with the mainland, isn’t feasible due to a lack of available agents, Simon said.

In Macao, the drug regulator ordered pharmacies last week to limit purchases of pain relievers, fever medicines and antigen test kits. The order came after residents complained about empty shelves when they were looking for cold and fever medicines, according to Exmoo News, a local newspaper.

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