Concerned Chinese Australians have begun sending over-the-counter cold and flu medication to family members in China amid a surge there in COVID-19 cases that has depleted local stocks.
Sydney resident Fan Yi told the ABC she had bought dozens of packets of painkillers and sent them to her parents, who are in their 70s, in Shanghai.
Long lines have been seen outside fever clinics and anecdotal reports indicate a huge increase in COVID-19 cases after widespread protests led to Beijing easing strict pandemic measures.
As rules requiring people to test negative before entering public places were lifted, Beijing warned about tight medical supplies and price gouging from retailers.
“Please buy rationally, buy on demand, and do not blindly stock up,” the Beijing Municipal Food and Drug Administration said.
Ms Fan said she became concerned about the availability of medicines as soon as the relaxed restrictions were announced.
“My generation’s parents are at least 70 years old,” Ms Fan said.
“As they don’t live in Australia, we certainly have to send something to them.”
Ms Fan, who came to Australia in 2007, is a full-time mother in Sydney’s Eastwood.
“We don’t want our parents to go to the hospital because the city’s medical facilities will definitely be overloaded,” she said.
“In these circumstances, you should count on yourself rather than the hospital.”
Healthcare system under siege
China’s official tally of COVID-19 cases has declined since the relaxation of restrictions earlier this month.
However, the figures have become an unreliable guide as the government is conducting less testing across the country.
Authorities have recommended healthcare workers with minor COVID-19 symptoms remain on the front lines, according to an official document seen by the ABC.
In Shanghai — where medicines became scarce during the strict lockdowns earlier this year — stockpiling of medicines at home has become commonplace, Ms Fan said.
Cold and flu medicines have been sold out in many domestic pharmacies and online platforms since last week.
On Alibaba, China’s largest online shopping platform, the price of regular paracetamol tablets has increased tenfold in the past week from $4 to $40 for 20 tablets.
Chinese state media CCTV reported that government-owned pharmaceutical company Sinopharm had tripled its daily production capacity of key drugs due to a sharp increase in demand for medicines to treat fever and cough symptoms.
“I am trying to help them be prepared for any emergency circumstances just in case they have a temperature for a couple of days,” Ms Fan said.
“As soon as I sent it to my parents, our relatives and friends also asked if they could have some too.”
Ms Fan said her friends in Sydney had sent similar products to their families in China too.
However, she said her local Chemist Warehouse had capped each customer’s purchase at one box per person.
“It is very difficult to buy the medicine now because of the restrictions,” she said.
The ABC has approached Chemist Warehouse for comments.
Logistics firms warn customers to follow policies
A spokesperson for Australia Post warned customers trying to send medicines overseas that importation rules could change at short notice.
“Customers should contact local authorities in China for the latest information,” the spokesperson said.
Zhao Danqing, a spokesperson for logistics firm Changjiang Express, told the ABC there had been an increase in requests for information about sending medicines to China recently.
“Most recent queries are related to flu medicines and supplements that help boost immunity,” Mr Zhao said.
“The destinations are Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, where some serious outbreaks are unfolding at the moment.”
He warned customers to be aware of Australian laws and regulations before they sent medicines overseas.
“Many logistics firms like us are not licensed for delivering medicines overseas,” he said.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration also suggested Australians contact “the appropriate authority in the destination country to confirm their requirements” before exporting medicines.
‘Everyone is sending medicines’
Ms Fan said the logistics company she used was as busy as a restaurant during a lunchtime rush when she was there.
“You had to squat on the ground to pack up your goods,” she said. “Everyone is sending medicines.”
Yang Hui, an associate professor of public health at Monash University, said Australians should be cautious about sending medication to family and friends overseas.
“The first thing is to use the medication correctly and safely, even for the most common-looking medications,” Dr Yang told the ABC.
“You should avoid using the medication blindly, especially to avoid abuse.
“Drug shortages are temporary, demand will inspire an increase in supply, and sending medicines from overseas is not effective.
“Australian drugs, especially retail drugs, should be guaranteed to local people first.”
Ms Fan said her parcels usually took about two weeks to arrive in Shanghai but she was worried the Christmas and New Year holidays, combined with the COVID-19 outbreaks, would affect delivery times.
“I am worried Shanghai’s couriers will become paralysed. That’s why I am rushing to send them now,” she said.
“Once another outbreak comes, everything could be paralysed.”