Hong Kong customs officials have increased checks at all control points to stop people smuggling medicines to treat Covid-19 and related symptoms, seizing more than HK$10 million (US$1.3 million) worth of controlled drugs over the past six weeks. The Post has learned that most of the seized medicines were believed to be on the way to Macau and mainland China, where a spike in infections late last month sparked a scramble for drugs. They included the Covid-19 medication Molnupiravir, Paxlovid and Primovir. A source said the customs maritime task force was on the lookout for smugglers taking medicines across the border by speedboat to evade the stepped-up enforcement. The Customs and Excise Department said there were also more parcels this week concealing controlled medicines and arriving by air mail from overseas. More than a dozen parcels mostly from European countries such as Germany and France were found to have medicines, including Paxlovid, said the department’s Assistant Commissioner (Boundary and Ports) Ida Ng Kit-ching. “The parcels were declared to contain chocolates, oak products and shoe bags,” she said, adding that in most cases, each parcel had between several hundred and more than 1,000 tablets. Buyers fork out HK$4,800 for Covid antivirals in illicit trade on Hong Kong app According to customs, two parcels that arrived on Monday and Wednesday contained nearly 8,940 tablets of Paxlovid and Primovir worth about HK$480,000. One arrived from Germany and the other from India. In 56 cases between December 1 and January 12, customs officers confiscated more than HK$660,000 worth of drugs brought by passengers and HK$9.5 million more in cargo at the various control points. Hong Kong drug suppliers find own cure for coronavirus medicine shortage after appeal Another source said most of the seized drugs were for Covid-19 and related symptoms. There were also medicines to treat pain, fever and cold, and the popular traditional Chinese over-the-counter medicine, Lianhua Qingwen, which is said to be effective in treating symptoms of fever and sore throat. The surge in Covid-19 infections in mainland China last month sparked a scramble for drugs, pushing up prices and forcing some stores to put a limit on purchases. The panic buying spilled over into Macau and Hong Kong too, as people with relatives and friends on the mainland snapped up painkillers to send across the border. Ng said customs began monitoring cargo and travellers more closely after the smuggling trend emerged, focusing mainly on arrivals from countries producing the medicines. Between December 27 and January 1, HK$940,000 worth of Covid-19 medicines were seized from five cross-border trucks at three control points. Five drivers were arrested. At the airport, officers seized about HK$660,000 worth of medicine in five bags and arrested four passengers between January 7 and 9. Two men who returned from Thailand on January 8 were arrested at the airport after 9,000 tablets of Primovir were found in their carry-on bags. The third suspect was a mainland Chinese man who arrived from India on January 6 but his luggage was delayed. About 2,000 tablets and 1,000ml of controlled medicine were found in his check-in luggage the next day. The man is still at large. Hong Kong customs seizes HK$600,000 worth of Covid medicine ‘intended’ for mainland The tablets included Primovir, a generic version of Paxlovid that is made in India. It is not registered in Hong Kong or mainland China but became popular on China’s black market amid the recent shortage of approved drugs for Covid-19. Only Molnupiravir, made by MSD – also known as Merck in the US and Canada – and Paxlovid, made by Pfizer, are approved and registered as oral drugs for Covid-19 treatment in Hong Kong. On Monday, customs officers arrested another two passengers at the airport after finding about HK$60,000 worth of controlled medicine in their carry-on bags. The smuggled drugs included pain and fever relief medicines containing paracetamol, cold medicine and medicinal oils. A 35-year-old woman was stopped before leaving for Hainan, and a 57-year-old man was arrested after arriving from Bangkok. Limits on sale of fever drugs could be difficult to enforce: Hong Kong pharmacists Hong Kong reopened four immigration checkpoints on January 8 after a three-year closure, but Ng said no cross-border travellers were caught with controlled drugs at the land control points. She said the stepped-up enforcement would continue until the illegal activities died down. Travellers were allowed to have reasonable amounts of medicine for personal use, she said, but those found with large quantities of controlled drugs faced arrest and prosecution if they did not have the necessary permits. Those caught with undeclared goods face a fine of up to HK$2 million and seven years in jail. Those having controlled drugs without the required paperwork face a fine of up to HK$100,000 and up to two years’ jail. Hong Kong on Saturday recorded 7,749 coronavirus infections, 186 of which were imported, and 54 more deaths. The city’s overall tally stands at 2,825,456 cases and 12,747 related fatalities.