Chinese lock themselves down, hoard medicine over fear of new covid wave

Chinese lock themselves down, hoard medicine over fear of new covid wave
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Just over a week after China began dismantling its “zero covid” policy, signaling an end to nearly three years of mass lockdowns, families in major cities are shunning their newfound freedom and instead hunkering down with stockpiles of medications and home remedies, out of fear of a devastating exit wave of infections.

The latest shift in government policy has been jarring. Despite mass protests against arbitrary and excessive zero covid restrictions in at least a dozen cities last month, few expected the government to move so fast in the opposite direction. After more than two years of strict and ubiquitous covid control, many Chinese report feeling left to fend for themselves.

Pharmacies across the country have run out of fever medications, as well as traditional herbal remedies. Supermarkets and online retailers are being bought out of foods rumored to aid recovery. Pfizer-made antiviral Paxlovid sold out almost immediately at nearly $430 per box when online pharmacy 111, Inc. opened sales on Tuesday.

Covid spreads and medical staff sicken after China relaxes restrictions

Esther Cui, a 28-year-old living in the eastern city of Hangzhou, visited eight pharmacies Thursday but they were sold out of ibuprofen and Tylenol as well as Shuanghuanglian and Lianhua Qingwen, two traditional Chinese herbal remedies promoted as covid treatments by the government.

“At one pharmacy, the clerk just put two packs of medicine that I hadn’t heard of in my hands and told me to buy them because they were also running out,” she said. “There have been so many changes to the epidemic prevention policy over the past few years that caught people off guard. Eventually, we reacted to any hint of change with all-out preparations.”

The demand for self-medication products and tips has led to questionable health-care advice — and some misinformation — to proliferate online.

A Marxism scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Jin Riguang, recommended chewing Sichuan peppercorn, a numbing spice, and drinking ginger-licorice tea. Canned peaches and lemons sold out on many platforms after being promoted as home remedies.

State media has warned people that washing your mouth out with salt water and drinking high-alcohol content distilled grain spirits do not kill the coronavirus or prevent infection.

Even advice about staying hydrated had to be qualified with reminders not to overdo it, after Chinese state media reported that a coronavirus patient in southwestern Chengdu gave herself water intoxication while following official advice to drink lots to aid recovery.

An electrolyte sports drink called “Alienergy” made by Genki Forest ran out after sales on some online platforms increased by 2,000 percent in a day over rumors it would provide better hydration than water.

Officials have cautioned against panic buying, which could inadvertently prevent medicines and other valuable health-care products from reaching patients in time. One proponent of traditional Chinese medicines, Zhang Boli, advised against being anxious because being in a bad mood could lower immunity.

Public unease has been worsened, however, because the full scale of outbreak is unclear. After the sudden removal of requirements for regular PCR testing, authorities said they were no longer able to keep track of positive tests and scrapped daily reports of asymptomatic tests. A new system of classification and reporting for covid deaths reportedly has made it harder for cases to be included.

As infections rise, China stops counting asymptomatic cases

Some online services that until days ago showed detailed breakdowns of infections have stopped updating recently. A search for the latest outbreak data on Baidu, China’s largest search engine, now results in a count of how many people have asked for medical advice using the website’s online consultation service, rather than the number of infections.

Difficulties in finding accurate and up-to-date information means that many people have relied on word-of-mouth to gauge how fast the virus is spreading. For some, the wave hit suddenly.

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