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Thursday, Jun 01, 2023

Hong Kong customs seizes HK$15 million worth of Covid-19 drugs, arrests 20

Hong Kong customs seizes HK$15 million worth of Covid-19 drugs, arrests 20

Preliminary tests found that one type of medication did not contain the claimed ingredients.

Hong Kong customs officers have seized about 257,000 tablets of smuggled Covid-19 drugs estimated to be worth more than HK$15 million (US$1.2 million) and arrested 20 suspects in connection with the illegal imports since January.

Customs on Friday revealed 33 cases involving the smuggling of Covid-19 oral drugs had been detected since it began special enforcement operations after noticing a rising trend in the beginning of January.

“We believe that most of the illegally imported Covid-19 oral drugs have been blocked,” said Lie Yan-ning, special investigation divisional commander of the syndicate crimes investigation bureau, adding he expected the trend to decrease as the local pandemic situation stabilised.

Lie Yan-ning, special investigation divisional commander of the syndicate crimes investigation bureau.

He said 27 of the cases involved illegal imports of the drugs through postal parcels, express deliveries and freight, with the number of tablets in each case ranging from hundreds to more than 100,000.

Six cases involved passengers bringing a total of about 87,000 tablets into Hong Kong through the city’s airport, mainly from India, Bangladesh, Thailand, the Netherlands and other European countries.

Lie said those arrested included both local residents and foreigners. He did not rule out the possible involvement of smuggling syndicates, adding the cases were still being investigated and more arrests could be made.

He said most of the seized drugs had no local registration numbers, and were believed to be unregistered. Preliminary tests found that one type of medication did not contain the claimed ingredients.

Lie said that there were only two registered Covid-19 oral drugs in Hong Kong, which could only be obtained through public and private medical institutions and doctors.

“The safety, quality and effectiveness of unregistered drugs are all doubtful,” he said, urging infected patients not to buy or take drugs whose origins and ingredients were unknown.

Importing or exporting drugs without a permit is illegal in Hong Kong. Lie said the offence carried a maximum penalty of two years in jail and a fine of up to HK$500,000, adding anyone who sold related drugs without a doctor’s prescription could also face a maximum of two years in prison and a fine of up to HK$100,000.

Two oral drugs to treat Covid-19 – MSD’s molnupiravir and Pfizer’s Paxlovid – are available in Hong Kong. They are designed to suppress the replication of the coronavirus and should be taken by patients with mild to moderate symptoms.

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