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Covid surge made Chinese shun cigarettes & alcohol, flock to medicine stores

New Delhi: Retail sales of medicines in China increased 43 per cent in December 2022 — the month when COVID-19 cases peaked in the neighbouring country —  according to recently released data from National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). 

From 8 December 2022 to 12 January 2023, China registered 59,938 COVID-19 deaths, Jiao Yahui, director of the Department of Medical Affairs of the National Health Commission, said last week. 

Reports estimate that 248 million people, or nearly 18 per cent of the China’s population, likely contracted the virus in the first 20 days of December.

According to data released by the NBS on 17 January, retail sales of traditional and Western medicines reached a whopping $12.66 billion (85.8 billion Chinese yuan) in December 2022 compared to $8.84 billion (59.9 billion Chinese yuan) in December 2021. 

Therefore, medicine sales in December 2022 grew 43 per cent year-on-year, as calculated by ThePrint.

Figures provided by the NBS don’t differentiate between sales of traditional and Chinese medicine. However, companies selling traditional Chinese medicine and herbal drugs have observed an uptick in demand since COVID-19 cases began to surge in the last two months of 2022.

For example, Chinese drug producer Shijiazhuang Yiling Pharmaceutical ramped up production of its popular herbal medicine, Lianhua Qingwen, in Shijiazhuang city after local pharmacies ran out of stock, reported Global Times.

Drugs like Lianhua Qingwen are traditional medicine formulations and fall under the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practice in China. Lianhua Qingwen was recommended by Chinese authorities in the early stages of the pandemic. 

According to month-over-month growth, retail sales of medicines rose by 41.8 per cent. Sales stood at $8.92 billion (60.5 billion Chinese yuan) in November 2022 and rose to $12.66 billion (85.8 billion Chinese yuan) in December 2022.

Monthly sales in 2022 have hovered around $7-8 billion but December was the only month in the year when sales of medicines breached the $10 billion mark.

Also Read: Xi Jinping’s politics is driving China’s wealthy out of the country–with cash

Wave of infections to continue

Nearly 18 per cent of China’s population, or as many as 248 million people, may have been infected with COVID-19 from 1 to 20 December 2022, Bloomberg News reported. 

Cases started to surge in November last year when China began to ease its zero-Covid policy and harsh lockdowns. On 21 November, about 28,127 cases were reported but by 29 November, the figure almost tripled.

Daily infections began to reduce by the end of December but a recent study reported by Bloomberg predicts that the wave of infections will continue and that nearly all of Beijing’s 22 million population will be infected by the end of January 2023.

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday expressed concern over the potential spread of infections to rural areas of the country, ahead of the lunar new year.

The NBS also released data on tobacco and alcohol sales in the country for the same period. According to NBS data, tobacco and alcohol sales stood at $7.58 billion (51.4 billion Chinese yuan) in December 2022 — a 7.3 per cent decrease from sales in December 2021, which stood at $7.88 billion (53.4 billion Chinese yuan).

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

Also Read: What dominates Chinese chatter on India—economy, cheaper medicine


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