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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

The “Final Round Players” of China’s Covid Outbreak

Those who still haven’t had Covid have made it to the “finals,” but it’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative.

Manya Koetse



This Chinese Lunar New Year period, as millions of people are traveling across the country, Hangzhou Daily (杭州日报) posted a video on Weibo of a 13-year-old boy dressed in full protective clothing at the Hangzhou train station.

The young man told the reporter that he was on his way to visit his grandparents for the Chinese New Year. When asked why he was dressed in protective clothing from head to toe, he answered: “Because I haven’t had Covid yet.”

According to the video posted by Hangzhou Daily, the boy has made it to the “Final Rounds” (决赛圈) as he has managed to stay Covid-negative at a time when so many people have already been infected with Covid-19 (#挺进决赛圈的男孩穿防护服坐火车#).

Since China ‘optimized’ the last stringent measures of its ‘Zero Covid’ policy back in early December – including an end to mandatory mass testing, – a wave of Covid infections spread across the country. The number of infections and emergency department visits reportedly reached its peak in late December of 2022 and in early January of 2023.

According to Wu Zunyou (@吴尊友ChinaCDC), chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center of Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of China’s population has now been infected with Covid (“这一波疫情已经使得全国约80%的人感染过”).

As it is getting rarer to come across someone who has not had Covid yet, travelers dressed in full hazmat suits and protective gear are bound to stand out. “So many people on the train, and there are still two people in the crowd wearing protective clothing,” one Weibo user from Guangdong wrote. Others also post photos on social media of some of the few travelers still fully dressed in protective gear.

One blogger photographed a child wearing protective clothing at Chongqing West Station on Jan. 24, calling the protective attire “exaggerated,” and wondering how the child was supposed to go to the toilet.

Photo posted on Weibo by @杨品-光线摄影学院 on Jan 24., 2023.

Traveler wearing protective clothing at Hangzhou East Station, photo by @百鸣老屈.

Hangzhou Daily is not the only media outlet dubbing those who managed to stay negative “final round players” (决赛圈选手). In early January, Beijing Daily (北京日报​​​​) and People’s Daily (人民日报) also published a short article using the same phrase. In the article, the Beijing expert physician Dr. Li Dong (李侗) answered some questions about the so-called ‘finalists.’

According to Dr. Li Dong, some of the people who claim to have managed to stay ‘Covid free’ were never infected due to protective measures. But there are also those who may have actually had Covid-19 without realizing it, as they barely had any symptoms or were completely asymptomatic.

“Final round players, protect yourself!” one Weibo commenter writes: “Who else has managed to reach these finals?”

“As a ‘final player,’ I finally went out to eat and visit the shopping mall today. I’ll have to wait and see if I reach the championship level. If I haven’t caught [Covid], I can go on and lead a normal life; if I did catch it, I’ll need to wait a while, and will also be able to lead a normal life.”

Other persons who did not have Covid yet also share on social media that they went out for the first time during this Spring Festival period: “I cautiously went out and saw my first movie in 2023, Wandering Earth II, I picked a morning screening so that the cinema is not so crowded yet.”

Now that the Covid infections in China have peaked and the number of infected critically ill patients is quickly dropping, the fears over catching Covid are also seemingly fading among those who were not yet infected.

But some people who have not had Covid yet are still being careful, especially if it concerns elderly family members. It’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative – also for loved ones who did previously have Covid and want to protect their family.

One Fujian-based social media user writes: “I recovered from Covid and I’m spending the Spring Festival with three ‘final round players.’ We’ve been stuck inside the house for days. I’ve been looking at the lanterns and the lights in the neighborhood, watching them from the balcony, and I really wanted to go down and see.”

“Looking at WeChat Moments, all my friends are out traveling, but my family still hasn’t had Covid and we’re afraid to go out,” another netizen writes: “It’s sad to celebrate the New Year without going out. Guess we’re final-round players now, let’s hope it brings good things.”

Meanwhile, the group of ‘finalists’ is still shrinking. One Weibo user from Guangxi wrote: “I’ve left the finalist circle. It’s only been two days since I returned to my hometown and I’m already infected.”

By Manya Koetse 

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China and Covid19

Video Shows Real-Time “Departure” Information Board at Chinese Crematorium

From “cremation in process” to “cooling down,” the digital display shows the progress of the cremation to provide information to those waiting in the lobby. The crematorium ‘departure’ board strikes a chord with many.

Manya Koetse



A video showing a live display screen announcing the names and status of the deceased at a Yunnan crematorium has been making its rounds on Chinese social media, from WeChat to Weibo, where one version of the video received over 1,7 million views.

Somewhat similar to a real-time platform departure display on train stations, the screen shows the waiting number of the deceased person, their name, gender, the name of the lounge/room (if any) for families, the name of the crematorium chamber, and the status of the cremation process. Below in the screen, it says “the final journey of a warm life” (温暖人生的最后旅程).

For example, the screen displays the names of a Mr. Chen and a Mr. Li; their bodies were in the process of being cremated (火化中), while other cremations were marked as “completed” (完成) or “cooling down” (降温中).

Through such a screen, located in the crematorium lobby, family members and loved ones can learn about the progress of the cremation of the deceased.

The video, recorded by a local on Jan. 7, received many comments. Among them, some people commented on the information board itself, while others simply expressed grief over those who died and the fragility of life. Many felt the display was confronting and it made them emotional.

“It makes me really sad that this how people’s lives end,” one commenter said, with another person replying that the display also shows you still need to wait in line even when you’re dead.

“I didn’t expect the screens [in the crematorium] to be like those in hospitals, where patients are waiting for their turn,” another Weibo user wrote. “It would be better if the names were hidden, like in the hospitals, to protect the privacy of the deceased,” another person replied.

Others shared their own experiences at funeral parlors also using such information screens.

Another ‘departure display’ at a Chinese crematorium, image shared by Weibo user.

“My grandfather passed away last September, and when we were at the undertaker’s, the display was also jumping from one name to the other and we could only comfort ourselves knowing that he was among those who lived a relatively long life.”

“Such a screen, it really makes me sad,” another commenter from Guangxi wrote, with others writing: “It’s distressing technology.”

Although the information screen at the crematorium is a novelty for many commenters, the phenomenon itself is not necessarily related to the Covid outbreak and the number of Covid-related deaths; some people share how they have seen them in crematoriums before, and funeral parlor businesses have used them to provide information to families since at least 2018.

According to an article published by Sohu News, more people – especially younger ones – have visited a funeral home for the first time in their lives recently due to the current Covid wave, also making it the first time for them to come across such a digital display.

The online video of such an information board has made an impact at a time when crematoriums are crowded and families report waiting for days to bury or cremate their loved ones, with especially a large number of elderly people dying due to Covid.

On Jan. 4, one social media user from Liaoning wrote:

I really suggest that the experts go to the crematoriums to take a look. There is no place to put the deceased, they’re parked outside in temporary containers, there’s no time left to hold a farewell ceremony and you can only directly cremate, and for those who were able to have a ceremony, they need to finish within ten minutes (..) At the funeral parlor’s big screen, there were eight names on every page, and there were ten pages for all the people in line that day, I stood there for half an hour and didn’t see the name of the person I was waiting for pop up anymore.”

As the video of the display in the crematorium travels around the internet, many commenters suggest that it is not necessarily the real-time ‘departure’ board itself that bothers them, but how it shows the harsh reality of death by listing the names of the deceased and their cremation status behind it. Perhaps it is the contrast between the technology of the digital display boards and the reality of the human vulnerability that it represents that strikes a chord with people.

One blogger who reposted the video on Jan. 13 wrote: “Life is short, cherish the present, let’s cherish what we have and love yourself, love your family, and love this world.” Among dozens of replies, some indicate that the video makes them feel uncomfortable.

Another commenter also wrote:

I just saw a video that showed an electronic display at a crematorium, rolling out the names of the deceased and the stage of the cremation. One name represents the ending of a life. And it just hit me, and my tears started flowing. I’m afraid of parting, I’m afraid of loss, I just want the people I love and who love me to stay by my side forever. I don’t want to leave. I’m afraid I’ll be alone one day, and that nobody will ever make me feel warm again.”

One person captured why the information board perhaps causes such unease: “The final moments that people still spent on this earth take place on the electronic screen in the memorial hall of the funeral home. Then, they are gone without a sound.”


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By Manya Koetse 
with contributions by Zilan Qian

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

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