Desperate shoppers all over the UK are hunting for paracetamol with supermarkets and chemists facing running out of the painkiller by this weekend amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Exports of the world’s most popular painkiller, which the government is advising Brits to use to combat the symptoms of the killer virus, are being restricted by India while production in China dries up.
Indian authorities fear a shortage of the painkiller in their own country and have restricted its export to the rest of the world, along with several other drugs.
The nation leans on China for almost 70 per cent of the ingredients in its drugs, with the outbreak of the virus leading to significant supply issues.
This has also affected the NHS and the UK, with India being one of the main suppliers of its generic drugs.
Now, UK firms are reporting shortages of the raw materials that make up the popular painkiller while Boots has already warned staff its warehouses only contain enough supply until the end of the week.
Paracetamol is selling out in pharmacies and stores during the coronavirus outbreak in the UK
Shoppers were pictured queuing up outside chemists around Britain, with people in Reading adhering social distancing rules as they waited.
Several UK companies produce paracetamol to supply to businesses but rely on shipping materials in from Asia to do so.
Aspar Pharmaceuticals, a manufacturer of pain relief medicines for chemists and supermarkets, including Tesco, is thought to have written to clients asking for around a 20 per cent increase in aspirin and paracetamol costs.
Aspar told MailOnline that it was having trouble fulfilling orders as the price of raw materials for paracetamol is rising and the products are drying up.
Martin Sawer, executive director of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance said that there is ‘plenty of paracetamol in the supply chain’ but admitted that the demand for it has increased.
Unlike over-the-counter medicines, paracetamol ‘is not price controlled’ and therefore the cost has increased, he added.
North East London Local Pharmaceutical Committee secretary Hemant Patel revealed that pharmacies were struggling to source smaller packs of paracetamol.
She said they are asking whether they can instead break up packs of 100.
Contractor Olivier Picard said that his business had sold 200 paracetamol packets in just over a day and had run out of packets of paracetamol that did not require a prescription.
The government has yet to reveal how it would deal with a potential supply issue for painkillers like paracetamol.
People in Emmer Green shopping precinct adhere to the social distancing rule when queueing for the chemist
Signs posted to a door of a local pharmacy in Leigh-on-sea state ‘We have toilet rolls and Paracetamol in stock’
Earlier this week, it advised people to use the painkiller instead of ibuprofen, admitting it did not yet know whether ibuprofen worsened the impact of Covid-19.
By Saturday, Boots expects to have run out of paracetamol and has introduced measure to ration how much customers can buy.
A Boots spokesman said: ‘We have seen an increase in customers looking to buy paracetamol in our stores, and we’re sorry if there may have been limited occasions where we have sold out.
Why does the UK rely on India and China for paracetamol?
The coronavirus outbreak has led to a slew of supply issues.
Paracetamol is one of them, with fears the supply of the popular drug could run out in the UK.
Britain, like the EU and the US, imports much of its medical ingredients from China and India.
In fact, the two countries are believed to 80 per cent of Europe’s medical material.
Ingredients are cheaper and manufacturing is subject to fewer regulations in both countries, making them an attractive choice.
But wth the virus hitting Chinese manufacturers, India have decided to curb exports of its supply to protect citizens, as it relies on China for about 70 per cent of all materials.
Amid the current crisis, the EU is thought to be examining its dependence on drugs from the two countries.
However, their cheapness and the cost of opening up new facilities in the UK and Europe to produce the materials makes its a difficult change.
‘We have been working closely with all of our suppliers and have more stock arriving in stores every day.
‘To ensure we can support as many people as possible, there is currently a limit of two units per customer on hand sanitisers, soap and hand wash, pain relief products, cough and cold, all children’s medicines, thermometers, tissues and hand wipes, baby milks, baby sterilising and antibacterial products, and hand creams.
‘There is also a limit of one unit per customer for products containing paracetamol.’
Sandra Gidley, RPS President, told MailOnline today: ‘Pharmacies are experiencing much higher demand for paracetamol than usual, with people buying in supplies in preparation for any period of self-isolation they may face. However, the public can be reassured that paracetamol is still available.
‘We know that packs of 16 are becoming harder to find both for individuals and for pharmacists. Pharmacies have been told that they can now break down larger packs of paracetamol, usually only available on prescription, to prepare smaller packs for people who need them. The pharmacy team should supply the paracetamol to the member of the public directly, with appropriate labelling and safety information supplied in a clear and understandable way.
‘It is important that everyone remembers to only request what they need and not to stockpile medicines as this makes it difficult for others and creates the very shortages people are worried about.’