Taiwan may restrict Panadol sales to thwart bulk-buying for China

Taiwan may restrict the bulk buying of pain relief medications as people stock up, with some planning to ship their purchases to China, where the worsened Covid-19 situation has put a strain on supplies.

Hsueh Jui-yuan, Taiwan’s minister of health and welfare, told lawmakers at a legislative committee hearing on Thursday that the health agency would first instruct pharmacies to advise customers not to snap up Panadol and related drugs.

The health authorities would discuss if they needed to impose restrictions but there was no concreate plan in place yet, Hsueh told reporters on Thursday, the official news agency Focus Taiwan reported.

Taiwan has experienced shortages of paracetamol and Covid-related medicine since May this year when local cases surged, several pharmacies in Taipei told the Guardian. One pharmacy said that over the past few weeks, customers had come in to stock up, fearing a surge in cases after Taiwan opened its borders to tourists in October.

“We ran out of stock for Panadol fairly quickly and we don’t expect restocking any time soon until probably after the lunar new year, which falls in late January next year,” said one employee at a pharmacy in Da’an district in downtown Taipei.

Some drug buyers in Taiwan are looking to ship or bring the painkiller to the Chinese mainland, where Covid-19 cases and deaths have risen after China relaxed its zero-Covid restrictions.

“I plan to purchase a variety of drugs that can help fight Covid when I return to work in Shenzhen,” said Lee, a Taiwanese entrepreneur who only gave his last name and runs a cross-border e-commerce business in the Chinese south-eastern city. “I even plan to resell some of the drugs to my friends.”

Chang, a Taiwanese product designer who works in Beijing and is currently on vacation in Taipei, said he planned to buy fever drugs and rapid antigen test kits before returning to work early next year. “I feel there’s a high chance for me to get infected after I return to Beijing, so I figure I’d prepare some drugs to avoid all the hectic I may experience trying to get a hold of drugs.”

China is scrambling to ensure stable drug supplies after ending its nationwide zero-Covid policy. Authorities have introduced measures to properly allocate medical resources, including requisitioning the production of medical supplies.

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 requisitioning. At least 11 of 42 test kit makers whose products are licensed by China’s medical regulators have had part of their production seized by the government or received orders from the state, according to Agence France-Presse and local media reports.

AFP contributed to this report.

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