China’s COVID Scare Sparks Run on Flu Medicines, Test Kits as Far Away as Australia

SYDNEY/BEIJING (Reuters) – The rising alarm over COVID-19 spreading in China was felt in pharmacies in Hong Kong, Macau, and in some neighbourhoods in Australia, as people hunted for fever medicines and virus test kits to send to family and friends on the mainland.

China’s sudden easing of strict COVID rules last week triggered a surge in demand for these items on the mainland, with queues forming outside pharmacies and online platforms quickly selling out.

Several shops have since imposed limits on how much customers can buy, and drugmakers are ramping up production.

“Chinese people like to hoard things. How could there be anything left? They like to hoard medicines before they even get sick,” said a doctor in Shanghai.

Chang Linyun, a 42-year-old mother in Beijing, said she tried to ask friends in Australia to buy fever medicine for her young son, as the drugstores were sold out, and traders who use social media and mobile apps to source and provide goods to customers, known as “daigou”, were charging too much.

“I’d like to buy two bottles of Panadol and two bottles of Nurofen… (But) my friend told me that drug stores near her home in Melbourne have all sold out of fever medicine, because too many Chinese daigou are buying,” Chang said.

In Box Hill, a suburb of Melbourne and home to one of Australia’s largest Chinese communities, a pharmacist said several drugstores had run out of Panadol.

In Hong Kong, two sales staff in a pharmacy shop said there were very low stocks of Panadol across its network in the city, even as its Health Secretary Lo Chung-mau said on Sunday that the government will ensure the supply of paracetamol-based drugs to calm fears of a shortage.

“I have friends in Beijing who asked me to send over some flu medicines and rapid tests. They just couldn’t get any in Beijing, they placed orders online, but nothing gets sent,” said a 30-year-old woman in Hong Kong surnamed Lo who was buying flu and anti-fever medicines and COVID tests to send to her friends.

In Macau, health authorities have imposed purchase limits for antiviral drugs used to treat COVID-19 symptoms.

Xiangxue Pharmaceutical, which produces an antiviral solution, said on Monday it was “going all out” to increase output in response to a question on the shortages in pharmacies.

And the government-backed Sinopharm Group has tripled daily production capacity of key drugs, state run CCTV reported, due to a sharp increase in demand for medicines to treat fever and cough symptoms.

(Reporting by Stella Qiu in Sydney, Farah Master, Selena Li and Julie Zhu in Hong Kong, Sonali Paul in Melbourne, Xinghui Kok in Singapore, Sophie Yu in Beijing, Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Writing by Miyoung Kim; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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