Dec 21, 2022, 3:17pm EST
East Asia

Video shows Chinese residents storming a pharmacy giving out free meds amid drug shortage


Sign up for Semafor Flagship: A global, insightful daily briefing. Read it now.

Title icon

The Video

A video that went viral on Weibo -- China's version of Twitter -- shows the moment people stormed a pharmacy that was reportedly handing out free fever medication as the country faces a drug shortage amid a COVID surge.

As customers crowd the store, a man -- who local media identified as the store manager -- is heard shouting, "What am I supposed to give you? I'm giving you my life!"

Despite his plea for customers to calm down, the patrons continue to grab large quantities of medication.

"Just grab them with your hands; grab them and leave," one woman is heard saying in the video.

According to local media, the owner of the store later posted about the incident on Weibo, writing that it was "heartbreaking" that nobody helped him from stopping "unqualified" people from taking the medicines.

Title icon

The Reactions

As of Thursday morning Beijing time, posts with the hashtag #曝药店免费发药被人抢夺无人阻拦# (People robbed pharmacy giving out free drugs and nobody was stopped) had over 5 million views.

Weibo users condemned the actions of the customers, but some pointed out that the larger issue is a severe shortage of medications as China experiences a COVID surge after relaxing lockdown protocols earlier this month.

"At this point in time, selling in limited quantities is the greatest kindness," posted one user.

Weibo post on pharmacy

"They're not lacking medication -- what they're lacking is virtue," wrote another user.

Weibo post on pharmacy incident

"This is really crazy," wrote one user. "Now those that are really sick don't have any medicine to take, and those that aren't sick are stocked up."

Weibo post on pharmacy
Title icon

Step Back

China announced it would ease zero-COVID protocols earlier this month after anti-lockdown protests rattled the country. With COVID cases already on the rise before opening up, there are reports of overwhelmed hospitals and long lines at funeral homes.

As COVID cases and deaths pile up in China, pharmacies across the country are experiencing a severe shortage of cold and flu drugs, including ibuprofen and acetaminophen, as people "panic buy."

Several pharmacies in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and even Australia are seeing shortages for over-the-counter medications as friends and families buy drugs and ship them to the mainland, according to CNN.


Sign up for Semafor Flagship: A global, insightful daily briefing. Read it now.