Chinese medicine Lianhua Qingwen makes its way into community for COVID-19 treatment despite Australian ban

Lena Weib

After testing positive for COVID-19 in early January, Sharon Li started taking Lianhua Qingwen capsules, a traditional Chinese medication that is banned in Australia. 

Ms Li ordered her medication on the Chinese online shopping platform Taobao and shipped it to Australia through a third-party delivery provider.

“I heard that Lianhua Qingwen capsules were useful in treating COVID,” Ms Li told the ABC.

“My symptoms were relatively mild, similar to a cold or flu. 

“I used to take this medicine when I had a cold in China, so I bought it.” 

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has not given approval for the medicine to be legally supplied in Australia because it contains ephedra, a key ingredient used to make the drug methamphetamine — commonly known as meth.

“Ephedra can pose serious safety risks to patients, including cardiac toxicity, irreversible eye damage and severe depletion of blood sugar,” a TGA spokesperson said. 

Sharon Li had regularly taken Lianhua Qingwen in China to treat colds and was not aware it was illegal in Australia. (Supplied)

Ms Li said she did not know Lianhua Qingwen was prohibited in Australia when she ordered it online. 

It appears Ms Li might not be the only one. The medication has been in high demand among the Chinese community as a COVID treatment during the Omicron outbreak.

It has even been found stocked in Asian supermarkets in Melbourne.

Lianhua Qingwen maker Shijiazhuang Yiling Pharmaceutical told the ABC the company had never exported, sold or supplied the medicine to Australia because it was not registered in the country and it did not have an import licence here. 

What is Lianhua Qingwen? 

Lianhua Qingwen was developed during the SARS outbreak in 2003 and it has been widely used for treating the common cold in China with no prescription required. 

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