there is a shortage of fever medicine

Hong Kong/Taipei (CNN) — An unprecedented surge of Covid infections in China has caused widespread medicine shortages, as people rush to buy fever medicines and pain relievers to ease flu-like symptoms.

Generic versions of Tylenol and Advil have sold out in pharmacies in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and even Australia, prompting some local pharmacies to limit their sales. Even home remedies, like canned peaches, are running out.

The situation is similar to the shortage of children’s pain relievers in the United States and Canada, which are in high demand due to the proliferation of respiratory viruses.

The chief health officer of Hong Kong, a special administrative region with a separate system of government from mainland China, urged people to refrain from hoarding cold medicines, asking them “not to overdo it.”

At five pharmacies in the Wan Chai shopping district, the drug Panadol, the local brand of Tylenol, has been out of stock for two weeks, vendors told CNN. A seller, who gave his name as Simon, said the shortages were caused by buyers buying in bulk to send to friends and relatives on the Chinese mainland.

When his store does get some supplies, he is able to provide delivery to his old customers in China through a complex process that takes about two weeks, and costs HK$150-200 (US$19-26) per 2 kilograms.

“We mail the medicine to Macao, where our agents pick it up and then hand-deliver it across the border to Zhuhai,” he explains, adding that couriers must go through quarantine once they reach mainland China. Macao is another special administrative region of China, while Zhuhai is a city in southern mainland China that it borders.

Current rules do not allow drugs to be shipped directly from Hong Kong to mainland China, according to the sellers. Sending them directly from Hong Kong, which also shares a land border with mainland China, is not feasible due to a lack of available agents, Simon said.

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

Shortages in Taiwan and Australia

China is facing its worst Covid-19 outbreak since the start of the pandemic, with analysts at investment bank Nomura describing the situation as “national chaos”.

“In all of this, a big question is whether the current reopening was planned,” analysts at Capital Economics said in a separate note. “It seems that the broader state apparatus had not seen a change coming.”

This Monday, national authorities began announcing the first covid-related deaths since the relaxation of pandemic restrictions on December 7. Only a few deaths have been reported, though social media posts have pointed to increased demand at Beijing funeral homes and long lines at the city’s hospitals and fever clinics.

With health services overwhelmed, Chinese citizens have turned to personal networks around the world to get supplies against covid.

A CNN journalist visited a dozen pharmacies in various districts of Taipei on Tuesday night, failing to find a single box of Panadol. Mr. Lin, a clerk at the Kawaki drugstore in the city center, said demand had increased in the past two weeks.

“We have always suffered from a shortage of Panadol since the covid-19 outbreak, but the situation has worsened,” he said.

“Some customers told us that they wanted to send the pills to their family and friends in China, given the situation there.”

I Li-chen, a pharmacist in Taipei’s Xinyi district, said her pharmacy had received a lot of questions about Panadol pills recently.

“Some people wanted to buy the pills because they wanted to send them to relatives in China, while others needed them because they had to visit China soon,” he said.

Even in Australia, where there are large populations of ethnic Chinese residents, some concerned Chinese Australians have begun sending over-the-counter cold and flu medicines to relatives in China, according to ABC News.

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