Covid-19: Kiwis seek banned Chinese medicine as Customs seizes 235k pills

A herbal medicine endorsed in China for treating Covid-19 symptoms is being sought by Chinese Kiwis, despite being banned in New Zealand.

Lianhua Qingwen (连花清瘟) was used during the outbreak of Sars, another coronavirus, in China in 2002-2004 and its use has been encouraged by China’s head of the National Health Commission’s expert group for Covid-19, Nanshan Zhong, since the start of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of doses of Lianhua Qingwen have been seized by New Zealand Customs since 2020.The product is licensed in more than 20 countries including Canada, Russia, and Kuwait

However, a Ministry of Health spokesman said it contained ephedra – a controlled drug – and its use and supply was illegal in New Zealand.

Medsafe warned against its use as a medicine, and in particular for the treatment or prevention of Covid-19, he said.

Data from New Zealand Custom Service shows an increase in seizures of Lianhua Qingwen, corresponding with the surge of cases in New Zealand.

Between November 2021 and February 2022, there have been 128 incidents of the product being seized at the border.

Since May 2020, Customs has seized 235,393 pills, capsules or sachets of Lianhua Qingwen.

Stuff has seen the product been marketed by logistics companies and individuals on the social media app the Little Red Book (小红书).

A post by the Chinese company Wanshida International Logistics on the Little Red Book said it could send everyday items and medicine to New Zealand for $14 per kilogram.

The post did not mention Lianhua Qingwen, but used a photograph showing boxes of the product. It received 95 comments.

One person asked whether Lianhua Qingwen could enter New Zealand and was told “yes”.

When asked whether it was selling Lianhua Qingwen and whether it knew the product was illegal in New Zealand, the company said “we are not selling this”.

Stuff asked why it had posted photos of the product and answered people’s questions about the product. The company has not yet responded.

Another person posted to a Skykiwi forum at the end of February asking where they could purchase Lianhua Qingwen in New Zealand. The post received more than 3300 views and several offers.

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