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China and Covid19

Drug Shortages: Chinese Netizens Find New Ways to Access Medicines during Covid-19 Outbreak

From being creative to mutual aid platforms, Chinese netizens share multiple ways to get medicine to relieve Covid-19 symptoms.




Fears for a new strain of Covid-19 are causing another run on medicine in mainland China, where people are turning to alternative ways of getting popular medicine if the local (online) pharmacies have already sold out.

Lianhua Qingwen (连花清瘟), Paracetamol (对乙酰氨基酚), Ibuprofen (布洛芬), Paxlovid (奈玛特韦片), Diosmectite (蒙脱石散), and many more: these past weeks the various brand and generic names of analgesics, anti-inflammatory drugs, antiviral pills, gastrointestinal medication, and cough-suppressants have been making their rounds on Chinese social media, where some seem to have become experts in getting their hands on popular medicines despite them often being sold-out or simply hard to get.

There are also many questions among netizens about which medications are the best to take when catching Covid, and how to get them.

Although various media report that major Chinese cities, including Shanghai, have now passed their Covid infection peaks, the Covid infections waves throughout China and all the problems that come with it are still dominating top trending lists on Chinese social media.

The topic “How To Guard Against the XBB Strain” (#如何防备XBB毒株#) received over 110 million views on Weibo on January 3rd.

The XBB.1.5 subvariant is part of a new class of Omicron that is taking hold in the U.S. and elsewhere. After news spread that XBB is known to cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, some feared that XBB could cause another round of infections (#XBB会在我国引起新一轮流行吗#) and Chinese consumers soon started buying Diosmectite (蒙脱石散), Norfloxacin (诺氟沙星), and other medicine in hopes of being prepared for a possible XBB infection.

The same thing happened in the early stages of the current wave, when the Lianhua Qingwen (连花清瘟) capsules, a traditional Chinese medicine that is believed to help alleviate COVID-19 symptoms, were sold out as so many people were stocking up on them.

At the time, a video went viral showing how one pharmacist in Baoding would only sell the popular medicine if patients would also buy additional medication.

Despite the run on medicines, Chinese health officials and health-related accounts on social media have repeatedly urged people to “buy medicine reasonably” (“合理备药”) instead of hoarding. But ever since the start of the nationwide wave of infections along with the easing of Covid measures, panic-buying and medicine shortages have become a problem all over the country.

At the moment, the antipyretic Ibuprofen (布洛芬) and Acetaminophen (Paracetamol/对乙酰氨基酚) are especially in high demand and harder to get. Many hospitals and pharmacies have run out of medicines, with people joking that doctors can only treat patients by “talking therapy” [话疗 huàliáo, ‘curing by taking,’ a homophone of 化疗 huàliáo, meaning chemotherapy).

In late December, one doctor working at the Huashan Hospital of Fudan University posted on social media that the hospital no longer had available medicines for fever relief, and also none for cough relief.

“Some pharmacies really have nothing left,” one Weibo commenter from Guangxi wrote: “Our pharmacy is empty and is not receiving new goods for two weeks. Ibuprofen, paracetamol, rectal acetaminophen, thermometers, masks, coughing syrup, medicine for colds, it’s all no longer available. Now we can’t even get Diosmectite.”

Despite the shortages, Chinese consumers are trying to find ways to still get their hands on medicine and self-tests.

Alternatives for Popular Medicine

One way in which people make sure they can still get medicine to relieve their symptoms is by finding alternative options for sold-out medications.

Recently, one public WeChat account under the online medical consultation platform Dingxiang Doctor (丁香医生, 丁香生活研究所) published an article titled “What To Do If You Cannot Find Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen?” (“买不到布洛芬、对乙酰氨基酚怎么办?“)

The article guides people in seeking alternatives for Ibuprofen and acetaminophen in situations when suitable pain and fever relief medicines are unavailable.

Alternatives include converting medicine doses so that adults can take children’s medications and vice versa (i.e. by calculating how many doses of children’s Ibuprofen an adult can take), using other kinds of Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) than Ibuprofen or finding compound medication which still contain acetaminophen.

The article also reminds readers that these backup plans should only be used in times of emergency, as they might not be as efficient as Ibuprofen and acetaminophen and might cause other side effects.

Mutual Aid on WeChat

WeChat also helps people in finding the medicine they need. In December, Tencent launched the “Covid Medication Public Mutual Aid Platform” (新冠防护药物公益互助平台) mini-program on WeChat, through which people can place requests for medicines through the “I need medicines” (我需要药) tab, but can also share the medicine they no longer need under the “I have spare medicine” (我有多的药) tab.

These requests end up on the platform after users have filled in their personal information, including addresss and real-name authentication. Once a request or offer has ended, the users can mark it as completed.

Featured above is a screenshot of the WeChat mutual aid platform. The bottom half of the image includes a request for four Ibuprofen capsules. Publish time, location, and situation description are available for the public (the location in the screenshot is blurred to protect privacy). Users can click the green bottom “I can offer help” (“我可以提供帮助”) to provide support if they can give away some spare Ibuprofen capsules.

Besides this service, many people also use their own WeChat community groups to exchange medicines between neighbors. According to a Weibo post by Zhejiang Daily, one woman in Hangzhou requested medication in the community WeChat group for her child, who had a fever of 41 celsius. The next morning, a bottle of Motrin appeared in front of her door, left for her by her next-door neighbor (#孩子发烧41℃第二天家门口出现一瓶美林#).

Amap Mutual Aid Function

Besides WeChat, the Chinese navigation/map platform (高德地图) has now also introduced a function through which people can exchange medication and spare antigen tests. has joined forces with Alibaba’s Public Welfare platform in launching the Covid Medication Public Good Help Platform (新冠药物公益互助平台) through which people can find medication or surplus tests in their neighborhood, purely based on location, in times of emergency.

The function can be accessed by going to the “Medication Mutual Aid” (药物互助) from with the Amap app.

Saving Rapid Antigen Tests

While Chinese netizens are searching for new ways to get their hands on medicine and tests, there has also been a heightened focus on being careful with the resources people already have.

Given the limited access to Covid test kits these days, discussions on how to use test kits “wisely” to avoid wasting have popped up on social media.

On December 27th, People’s Daily published a Weibo post titled “Nine Tips for Using Test Kits” suggesting people should test only on the second day of fever to confirm infection and then on the eighth day of fever to confirm recovery.

China News Service also posted a video titled “Do not waste it! When you will get an accurate test” (#抗原啥时候测才准#), discouraging people from using test kits when they suspect getting Covid-19 because of a close contact or headache because the timing might not be accurate and another rapid antigen test would go to waste.

Aside from advice released by official media, people also think of their own creative ways to save tests. One man in Hangzhou thought he was being smart by pulling the test strip out of the plastic test cover and cut it in half to use the same kit twice. Later, however, one test kit manufacturer warned people that tampering with the tests would affect the result (#业内人士评男子为节省抗原剪开试纸#).

Medicines from Overseas

Another way in which people are trying to get medicine during this Covid wave is by purchasing medicine overseas and sending it back to families and friends in mainland China.

One blogger posted on Xiaohongshu about Chinese in Australia overbuying Panadol. One image showed how a pharmacy in Australia had a notice up regarding purchase restrictions, which was written in Chinese: one person can buy a maximum of 100 Panadol tablets (which is one bigger package).

Similarly, various media outlets reported Chinese nationals panic-buying medicines in Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and Hongkong, leading to many countries also issuing purchase restrictions on fever-reducing and cold medicine.

Chinese people lining up in front of Singapore’s logistic company Shun Xing to mail medicines back (image from Mothership.SG’s report).

While purchasing medicines overseas is easier for some than buying them in their own Chinese cities or towns, sending medicine to China can also pose a problem.

Some packages get lost in the shipping process, others are confiscated at customs or get turned down by couriers.

One Weibo user in the U.S. shared that her package was confiscated because of a new domestic policy limiting the international mailing of medicines. Similarly, a Xiaohongshu blogger from Singapore reported their cold relief medicines were turned down by the courier, who alleged that China’s new policy banned certain cold relief medicines from entering the country.

Despite the restrictions, people do not give up on trying. On Xiaohongshu, bloggers continue to share all kinds of tips and successful experiences of sending medicines back home to their friends and families, including what type of medicine to buy, what documentation to prepare, how many doses to send, and which courier company to use.

However, even if medicines can successfully arrive in China, custom clearance processes can takes a long time and sick family members may have already recovered when the medicines finally arrive.

Some people are also afraid that packages will be stolen upon arrival, as these kind of stories have also been surfacing on social media (#邮政局回应寄药被偷#).

“Enough Antigen Tests”

Over the past few days, there are have also been online discussions and news reports on antigen tests being back in stock at normal or even low prices (#抗原检测试剂遭甩卖#, #药店称抗原检测试剂特别充足#), leading some to hope that China’s medicine situation may turn around for the better in 2023.

Although experts now suggest that, in light of XXB, bulk buying Diosmectite is unnecessary, there are also those who no longer trust experts’ advice: “Once experts advised us not to bulk-buy, I know it is time to bulk-buy.”

Does a sufficient supply of antigen test kits mark a ‘return to normal’, or will new medication demands, such as Diosmectite, trigger another wave of medicine shortage?

On December 30, Health News (健康报) a publication under the National Health Commission, commented that the mutual aid medicine platforms may be here to stay.

While this message signals that the medicine shortage has not approached an end yet, people are tired of it: “I hope these [mutual aid] platforms will only blossom a short time,” one Weibo user writes: “I hope our lives can return to normal.”

By Zilan Qian, with contributions by Manya Koetse


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China and Covid19

Repurposing China’s Abandoned Nucleic Acid Booths: 10 Innovative Transformations

Abandoned nucleic acid booths are getting a second life through these new initiatives.

Manya Koetse



During the pandemic, nucleic acid testing booths in Chinese cities were primarily focused on maintaining physical distance. Now, empty booths are being repurposed to bring people together, serving as new spaces to serve the community and promote social engagement.

Just months ago, nucleic acid testing booths were the most lively spots of some Chinese cities. During the 2022 Shanghai summer, for example, there were massive queues in front of the city’s nucleic acid booths, as people needed a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours for accessing public transport, going to work, or visiting markets and malls.

The word ‘hésuān tíng‘ (核酸亭), nucleic acid booth (also:核酸采样小屋), became a part of China’s pandemic lexicon, just like hésuān dìtú (核酸地图), the nucleic acid test map lauched in May 2022 that would show where you can get a nucleic test.

Example of nucleic acid test map.

During Halloween parties in Shanghai in 2022, some people even came dressed up as nucleic test booths – although local authorities could not appreciate the creative costume.

Halloween 2022: dressed up as nucliec acid booths. Via @manyapan twitter.

In December 2022, along with the announced changed rules in China’s ‘zero Covid’ approach, nucleic acid booths were suddenly left dismantled and empty.

With many cities spending millions to set up these booths in central locations, the question soon arose: what should they do with the abandoned booths?

This question also relates to who actually owns them, since the ownership is mixed. Some booths were purchased by authorities, others were bought by companies, and there are also local communities owning their own testing booths. Depending on the contracts and legal implications, not all booths are able to get a new function or be removed yet (Worker’s Daily).

In Tianjin, a total of 266 nucleic acid booths located in Jinghai District were listed for public acquisition earlier this month, and they were acquired for 4.78 million yuan (US$683.300) by a local food and beverage company which will transform the booths into convenience service points, selling snacks or providing other services.

Tianjin is not the only city where old nucleic acid testing booths are being repurposed. While some booths have been discarded, some companies and/or local governments – in cooperation with local communities – have demonstrated creativity by transforming the booths into new landmarks. Since the start of 2023, different cities and districts across China have already begun to repurpose testing booths. Here, we will explore ten different way in which China’s abandoned nucleic test booths get a second chance at a meaningful existence.


1: Pharmacy/Medical Booths

Via ‘copyquan’ republished on Sohu.

Blogger ‘copyquan’ recently explored various ways in which abandoned PCR testing points are being repurposed.

One way in which they are used is as small pharmacies or as medical service points for local residents (居民医疗点). Alleviating the strain on hospitals and pharmacies, this was one of the earliest ways in which the booths were repurposed back in December of 2022 and January of 2023.

Chongqing, Tianjin, and Suzhou were among earlier cities where some testing booths were transformed into convenient medical facilities.


2: Market Stalls

Market stalls instead of nucliec acid testing booths. Image via Sina.

In Suzhou, Jiangsu province, the local government transformed vacant nucleic acid booths into market stalls for the Spring Festival in January 2022, offering them free of charge to businesses to sell local products, snacks, and traditional New Year goods.

The idea was not just meant as a way for small businesses to conveniently sell to local residents, it was also meant as a way to attract more shoppers and promote other businesses in the neighborhood.


3: Community Service Center

Small grid community center in Shizhuang Village, image via Sohu.

Some residential areas have transformed their local nucleic acid testing booths into community service centers, offering all kinds of convenient services to neighborhood residents.

These little station are called wǎnggé yìzhàn (网格驿站) or “grid service stations,” and they can serve as small community centers where residents can get various kinds of care and support.


4: “Refuel” Stations

In February of this year, 100 idle nucleic acid sampling booths were transformed into so-called “Rider Refuel Stations” (骑士加油站) in Zhejiang’s Pinghu. Although it initially sounds like a place where delivery riders can fill up their fuel tanks, it is actually meant as a place where they themselves can recharge.

Delivery riders and other outdoor workers can come to the ‘refuel’ station to drink some water or tea, warm their hands, warm up some food and take a quick nap.


5: Free Libraries

image via sohu.

In various Chinese cities, abandoned nucleic acid booths have been transformed into little free libraries where people can grab some books to read, donate or return other books, and sit down for some reading.

Changzhou is one of the places where you’ll find such “drifting bookstores” (漂流书屋) (see video), but similar initiatives have also been launched in other places, including Suzhou.


6: Study Space

Photos via Copyquan’s article on Sohu.

Another innovative way in which old testing points are being repurposed is by turning them into places where students can sit together to study. The so-called “Let’s Study Space” (一间习吧), fully airconditioned, are opened from 8 in the morning until 22:00 at night.

Students – or any citizens who would like a nice place to study – can make online reservations with their ID cards and scan a QR code to enter the study rooms.

There are currently ten study booths in Anji, and the popular project is an initiative by the Anji County Library in Zhejiang (see video).


7: Beer Kiosk

Hoegaarden beer shop, image via Creative Adquan.

Changing an old nucleic acid testing booth into a beer bar is a marketing initiative by the Shanghai McCann ad agency for the Belgium beer brand Hoegaarden.

The idea behind the bar is to celebrate a new spring after the pandemic. The ad agency has revamped a total of six formr nucleic acid booths into small Hoegaarden ‘beer gardens.’


8: Police Box

In Taizhou City, Jiangsu Province, authorities have repurposed old testing booths and transformed them into ‘police boxes’ (警务岗亭) to enhance security and improve the visibility of city police among the public.

Currently, a total of eight vacant nucleic acid booths have been renovated into modern police stations, serving as key points for police presence and interaction with the community.


9: Lottery Ticket Booths

Image via The Paper

Some nucleic acid booths have now been turned into small shops selling lottery tickets for the China Welfare Lottery. One such place turning the kiosks into lottery shops is Songjiang in Shanghai.

Using the booths like this is a win-win situation: they are placed in central locations so it is more convenient for locals to get their lottery tickets, and on the other hand, the sales also help the community, as the profits are used for welfare projects, including care for the elderly.


10: Mini Fire Stations

Micro fire stations, images via ZjNews.

Some communities decided that it would be useful to repurpose the testing points and turn them into mini fire kiosks, just allowing enough space for the necessary equipment to quickly respond to fire emergencies.

Want to read more about the end of ‘zero Covid’ in China? Check our other articles here.

By Manya Koetse,

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China and Covid19

The Hottest Place in China: How Zibo Became a Popular Tourist Destination and an Online Hit

There are even special Zibo BBQ trains now. This is how Zibo barbecue suddenly became the hottest meal of the country.

Manya Koetse



The old industrial city of Zibo treated students well during their zero Covid quarantine. This spring, they came back to celebrate the city. Their enthusiasm and social media posts were so contagious that the entire country now wants a taste of Zibo barbecue.

In central Shandong province, bordering the provincial capital Jinan to the west, you will find the city of Zibo (淄博). With its 4.7 million inhabitants, the old industrial and mining city was not exactly known as a trendy tourist destination. But that has all changed now. Everybody is talking about Zibo.

For the upcoming May 1st holiday, hotel bookings in Zibo went up 800% compared to 2019, making it one of the most popular destinations in Shandong. The city has especially attracted online attention since March of 2023, with hashtags and hot searches peaking over the previous week.

How did Zibo become such an online sensation, especially among China’s young travelers? The city’s hit status is widely discussed on Chinese social media apps these days. The emergence of such an overnight sensation is usually the result of various factors coming together at the right time, and this is also the case with the hype surrounding Zibo.

Zibo Barbecue

Its appealing barbecue culture is the first and main reason why Zibo is so hot nowadays. The city has been known for its barbecue restaurants for years, and creating a thriving open-air BBQ entertainment environment is also something the local authorities have invested in. They are publicizing Zibo as an ambassador city for “Friendly Shandong” (“好客山东”), the slogan the province uses to promote its image and boost tourism.

The Zibo BBQ experience includes every table having its own small stove and it has that ‘do it yourself’ factor that hotpot-style dinners also have: when the skewers are served, the diners have to grill them themselves and then wrap them in thin pancakes, usually with spring onions.

Zibo barbecue, images via social media.

As one of its tourism promotion initiatives, Zibo has set up special tourist trains and dedicated BBQ bus routes to attract groups of tourists and boost local tourism after the pandemic years. Train ticket sales for May 1st already doubled that of Spring Festival, and tickets for the Beijing South-Zibo route sold out online within a minute the moment they became available.

A Kind City in Difficult Times

Another reason for Zibo’s sudden fame was suggested by some Chinese netizens (including the popular @地瓜熊老六), who said that Zibo played a special role during China’s zero-Covid policy.

Zibo first went trending after a group of students from Jinan went there in March of this year. They came to Zibo because this was where they apparently were quarantined for a while during Covid, and they were well taken care of during their stay.

According to one Zibo local, the students also celebrated their last night in Zibo at the time with a major BBQ feast.

It is said that the students from Jinan wanted to go back to Zibo at this time and spend time there as a way to thank the city – not knowing they would start a viral sensation.

Power of TikTok

Douyin, the Chinese TikTok app, is also at the heart of Zibo’s recent success.

As reported by 36kr, Zibo first became a hot topic on Douyin in early March, when the videos of the initial groups of students taking the high-speed train to Zibo to eat barbecue went viral.

In April, Zibo again hit the hot trending lists on Douyin after one vlogger tried out ten different food stalls in the city and found that they all gave him the right portions or even gave him some extra food for free, reinforcing the idea that Zibo is a hospitable city.

What followed was a snowball effect, from Douyin to Xiaohongshu to Weibo, with videos showing Zibo diners singing together while eating and having a good time spreading all over social media, only increasing the appeal of the city. “Zibo is just all over my timeline,” some commenters wrote on April 15.

Crazy Travel after Covid

According to the Chinese media platform DT Finance (DT财经), Zibo is a destination that especially resonates with Chinese students who have new wishes when it comes to traveling.

Especially during the pandemic and China’s stringent Covid measures, many people have spent a lot of time indoors, quarantined, locked down, and/or unable to travel. Now that spring is here, people want to seize the moment and go out and enjoy their leisure time. This also means that instead of planning longer holidays well in advance, people book shorter, last-minute trips.

Social media pics of Zibo trips.

This is also one of the reasons why Zibo is especially popular among students from Shandong, who can hop on a train, reach their destination, and find themselves enjoying a beer and barbecue within a matter of hours.

Stories from Zibo

In light of the craze surrounding Zibo, there are various stories emerging from the thriving city that only add to its charm. For example, there are many videos showing the lively scenes around BBQ restaurants which went viral.

One visitor needed to catch his train but still wanted a taste of Zibo BBQ, so one female shop owner hurried things along and made sure he got his Zibo dinner (#淄博老板娘为赶高铁小伙1v1烤串#).

Then there was a 95-year-old veteran who visited the Zibo BBQ scene and his visit also made its rounds on social media (#95岁老兵体验淄博烧烤被围观#).

Another trending hashtag is about Zibo’s music events (#淄博音乐节#), about some of the planned events and (rock) concerts taking place in Zibo in late April and early May. “Zibo’s cultural tourism office really understand how to do it,” various commenters wrote, praising how Zibo is not just known for its barbecue restaurants but also for its lively music scene.

Then there are the videos showing an entire crowd singing ‘happy birthday’ because one person is celebrating their birthday.

All in all, it’s clear that Zibo did something right. Especially in these times when so many cities across China are doing all they can to promote their town as a tourist destination (read all about it here), Zibo has proven that consistency is key to success: stay kind, be reliable, but most of all, keep the barbecue hot.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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