Chinese rush to stock up on antigen kits and medicines as COVID prevention eases

BEIJING, Dec 6 (Reuters) – Chinese residents have rushed to get COVID-19 antigen kits and medicines for fevers and colds, as the country’s recent easing of preventive measures sparked widespread public concerns that they are themselves could now be infected with the virus.

Online medicine platforms, pharmacies and drugmakers have reported rising sales in recent days, with JD Health (6618.HK) saying antigen test kit sales for the week between November 28 and December 4 were down from the previous week 344% up.

“People around me are all buying antigen kits, and I also bought 50,” said 40-year-old Huang Yuqi from Beijing, who works for an entertainment company.

“Now the country is entering a new phase in terms of pandemic policy and I am unsure what will happen next. All we can do is try to protect ourselves, so I also buy N95 face masks, Tylenol and Ibuprofen.”

A clerk at Tongzhitang Dongdan drugstore in downtown Beijing told Reuters the anti-fever medicines were sold out on Monday. “I’ve never seen so many customers buying fever medication in one day,” he said. “We’re trying to restock our shelves, but that may take a week.”

On Monday, the market regulator in Beijing warned against hoarding and raising the prices of epidemic prevention products, including antivirus drugs, masks, and disinfection and sterilization items.

The surge in demand has boosted drugmaker share prices, with cough syrup maker Guizhou Bailing (002424.SZ) and Xinhua Pharmaceutical (000756.SZ), which accounts for 40% of all ibuprofen sold in China, up 8-10% are. on Tuesday.

China’s strict adherence to its zero-COVID policy over the past three years has kept its general public largely isolated from the waves of infections that have been sweeping around the world.

In a global comparison, China has had far fewer cases and deaths, but the economy has paid a price for the strict restrictions on movement.

Authorities finally began to ease some of the toughest restrictions after public frustration boiled over late last month with a wave of protests in the strongest display of dissent since Chinese President Xi Jinping took power a decade ago.

While many people are relieved that some requirements have been relaxed – including fewer tests and the ability to quarantine positive cases at home in some places – there are many other people who now feel more vulnerable to contracting the virus.

There is also some skepticism about the change in tone in the news from officials who had previously stressed the dangers of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

China had also introduced rules over the past three years, such as requiring people to register their names to buy fever and cold medicine to track potential infections. However, some places have started dropping such requirements.

People worried about the potential of contracting COVID as preventative measures are withdrawn are also buying Lianhua Qingwen, a traditional Chinese formulation manufactured by Shijiazhuang-based Yiling Pharmaceutical (002603.SZ), as it widely used in China for treatment of COVID -19.

Shandong-based pharmaceutical company Buchang Pharma (603858.SS) told local news agency Cailianshe that its factory, which produces a Chinese drug for lung diseases, is running 24 hours due to “huge demand”.

The rush to stock up on COVID treatments was met with scorn in state media.

“There is no scientific basis for the irrational buying and hoarding of certain drugs,” Economic Daily wrote on Tuesday.

Reporting by Sophie Yu, Brenda Goh; Edited by Simon Cameron Moore

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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