Why people in China are panic buying canned yellow peaches as Covid surges

Hong Kong

An unprecedented wave of Covid cases in China has sparked panic buying of fever medicines, pain killers, and even home remedies such as canned peaches, leading to shortages online and in stores.

Authorities said Wednesday they had detected 2,249 symptomatic Covid-19 cases nationally through nucleic acid testing, 20% of which were detected in the capital Beijing. CNN reporting from the city indicates the case count in the Chinese capital could be much higher than recorded.

Demand for fever and cold medicines, such as Tylenol and Advil, is surging nationally as people rush to stockpile drugs amid fears they may contract the virus.

Canned yellow peaches, considered a particularly nutritious delicacy in many parts of China, have been snapped up by people looking for ways to fight Covid. The product is currently sold out on many online shops.

Its sudden surge in popularity prompted Dalian Leasun Food, one of the country’s largest canned food manufacturers, to clarify in a Weibo post that canned yellow peaches don’t have any medicinal effect.

“Canned yellow peaches ≠ medicines!” the company said in the post published Friday. “There is enough supply, so there is no need to panic. There is no rush to buy.”

The People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, also tried to set the record straight. It published a long Weibo post on Sunday urging the public not to stockpile the peaches, calling them “useless in alleviating symptoms of illness.”

Residents line up at a fever clinic in Beijing, China, on Tuesday, December 13, 2022.

Authorities also pleaded with the public not to stockpile medical supplies. On Monday, the Beijing city government warned residents that it was facing “great pressure” to meet demand for drug and medical services because of panic buying and an influx of patients at clinics.

It urged the public not to hoard drugs or call emergency services if they have no symptoms.

The rising demand and shortage of supply of Covid remedies have fueled bets on drugmakers.

Shares of Hong Kong-listed Xinhua Pharmaceutical, China’s largest manufacturer of ibuprofen, have gained 60% in the past five days. The stock has so far jumped by 147% in the first two weeks of this month.

“Our company’s production lines are operating at full capacity, and we are working overtime to produce urgently needed medicines, such as ibuprofen tablets,” Xinhua Pharmaceutical said Monday.

Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory drug used to treat pain and fever. It is also known as Advil, Brufen, or Fenbid.

The drug shortage has spread from mainland China to Hong Kong, a special administrative region which has a separate system of local government. On Sunday, the city’s health chief urged the public to refrain from panic buying cold medicines they do not need and urged residents “not to overact.”

In some Hong Kong drugstores, fever drugs such as Panadol, the local brand name for Tylenol, have sold out. Most of the buyers were sending the medicines to their families and friends in the mainland, sales representatives told CNN.

Shares of Shenzhen-listed Guizhou Bailing Group Pharmaceuticals, known for making cough syrup, have gained 21% this week and risen 51% so far this month. Yiling Pharmaceutical, the sole producer of Lianhua Qingwen, a traditional Chinese medicine recommended by the government for treating Covid, has also jumped more than 30% in the past month.

Even providers of funeral services and burial plots have gotten a huge boost. Shares in Hong Kong-traded Fu Shou Yuan International, China’s largest burial service company, have soared more than 50% since last month.

There is “strong pent-up demand for burial plots” in 2023, analysts from Citi Group said in a recent research report, adding that they’ve noticed increasing investor interest in the sector.

They cited the existence of hundreds of thousands of cremated remains, which are being temporarily stored in government facilities awaiting burial. Lockdowns across much of the country have halted funeral services, they said.

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