China authorities take over medical supplies production as Covid surges

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Beijing (AFP) – China has called for the production of medical supplies across the country as it struggles to obtain millions of basic medicines and test kits in the face of a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Pharmacies in major cities have been emptied following the Chinese government’s sudden decision to lift years of lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing.

Authorities have urged those with mild symptoms to stay home and seek treatment on their own, prompting a rush on everything from ibuprofen to rapid antigen tests.

To address nationwide shortages, more than a dozen Chinese pharmaceutical firms have been tapped by officials to help “secure supplies” of key drugs — a euphemism for requisition — according to AFP interviews and local media.

At least 11 of the 42 test kit manufacturers whose products are licensed by China’s medical regulators have had part of their production seized by the government or ordered by the state, local reports said.

Wiz Biotech, a rapid antigen test maker in the southern city of Xiamen, confirmed to AFP on Thursday that all the kits it has developed will be requested by the local government.

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In Beijing, authorities sent extra workers to six antigen kit manufacturers to help them “increase production,” the municipality said on its website.

‘The whole family is sick’

Across China, millions of people are struggling to get basic medical supplies.

“My whole family is sick and I can’t buy medicine for the fever,” Chengdu resident Yanyan, who gave his first name, told AFP.

On Thursday, a dozen pharmacies across the country reported shortages of fever medicine.

“We haven’t had any medicine for a week or two… I still have some painkillers left, but very little,” a pharmacist in the northwestern region of Ningxia told AFP.

Some local authorities have introduced rationing policies.

In Zhuhai city, officials said Monday that more than 500 pharmacies will require ID registration to buy fever medicine, with residents now allowed to buy up to six tablets a week.

Nanjing, capital of eastern Jiangsu province, said it had secured 2 million fever medicine tablets, but customers were also limited to six a week.

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The eastern city of Hangzhou on Thursday urged citizens to order drugs “reasonably” based on their needs.

“Don’t hoard medicines blindly… keep them with those who really need them,” read a notice from the city’s market supervision administration.

An expert told AFP that the supply disruption was a logistical rather than a manufacturing problem.

“Industry and information authorities are taking steps to secure production, but supplies are still far from smooth, such as traditional channels for hospitals and pharmacies,” said Zhou Zhicheng, director of the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing.

And as cases mount, hospital wards in major cities are filling up with elderly Covid-19 patients.

In the eastern megacity of Shanghai, an AFP journalist saw an emergency department corridor lined with stretchers filled with elderly people attached to oxygen tanks.

AFP counted at least 15 such patients spilling from the ward into the hallway, some with suitcases next to their trolleys.

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‘surge’

In the face of the outbreak on the mainland, anxious shoppers in Hong Kong have been clearing pharmacy shelves for nearly two weeks to stock up on over-the-counter flu medicine.

“Last week, there were people who bought a dozen, two dozen boxes of Panadol to send to mainland China,” a pharmacy worker told AFP.

Mannings, the semi-autonomous city’s largest pharmacy chain, limited purchases of popular Western brands of fever, cold, flu and cough medicines, as well as Chinese Lianhua Qingwen capsules, citing a “sudden increase in demand”.

The chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Pharmacy said most of the drugs bought were likely headed for China.

And authorities in Taiwan said they had also seen large-scale purchases of Panadol and similar drugs in the past few weeks.

“If the situation worsens, we will consider a rationing scheme to limit the number each person can buy,” said the head of Taiwan’s epidemic control command center.

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