As Omicron subvariants spike, China stocks up on medications

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As Omicron subvariants spike, China stocks up on medications

Medication, test kits become bestsellers as cities no longer require buyer details.

People buy medications at a pharmacy in Chongqing on Friday. CUI LI People are bracing for greater risk of infection by stocking up on items from medications, painkillers and vitamins to test kits, as authorities modify COVID 19 control measures to tackle the less lethal yet super-contagious Omicron subvariants.

The fervor has been reflected by several lists of medications shared on the messaging app WeChat and the microblogging service Sina Weibo, whose pronounced aim is to guide a person through dealing with a possible infection at home.

One such catalog contains eight medications, including common cold medicine Lianhua Qingwen, the anti-inflammatory drug Ibuprofen and vitamin C tablets.

An accompanying note provided advice on which drugs should be used in four scenarios: prevention, early stage, middle or recovering stage, and when the body aches.

Others even went as far as to recommend drugs approved for COVID-19 treatment, such as the pricey antiviral pill Paxlovid, and devices such as oximeters, which measure oxygen concentration in arterial blood, and lung ventilators.

The growing demand in Guangzhou, Guangdong province — where Omicron-fueled outbreaks triggered widespread lock-downs last month — prompted the province's medical products bureau to call for sensible purchasing.

The bureau said on Tuesday that it is necessary to prepare for short-term, emergency drugs, but there is no need for hoarding them in large quantities.

Finance website JRJ.com reported on Monday that the seven-day retail sales of cold, fever, cough and anti-inflammatory drugs grew 18 fold on JD's e-commerce platform.

It said that the search for Lianhua Qingwen, a bestseller on the platform, has increased by 2,000 times year-on-year.

The sales of antigen test kits on JD went up by 344 percent between Nov 28 and Sunday, compared to the previous week, the report said.

The growth in demand came after cities like Beijing, Tianjin and Hangzhou in Zhejiang province adjusted control measures earlier this month in line with central government directives, and scrapped a rule banning online sales of flu, cough, antiviral and antibiotic drugs.

The rules required brick-and- mortar pharmacies to register buyers in order to track possible infections when they were first imposed in October last year.

Concerns that older and pregnant patients can be quarantined at home and stop checking test results for subway riders would cause a spike in cases, as well as a reduction in COVID 19 restrictions.

Sun Zhijia, a respiratory medical expert in Guangzhou, warned against the random use of medications. In an interview with Global Times, he said the drugs on the lists are mainly for upper respiratory symptoms such as cough and runny nose, and would therefore be ineffective for patients with other COVID- 19 symptoms, including diarrhea, loss of appetite and sense of smell.

Huang Guoxin, a pharmacist in Shanghai, told the news website ThePaper.cn that people grappling with associated symptoms are advised to use antigen test kits first.

If results return negative, he said that ibuprofen and other fever drugs can be used to lower body temperature as people wait out the discomfort. If the symptoms persist, people are advised to seek medical advice and treatment, he added.