FRANCE — The French government has announced an immediate ban on the internet sale of all paracetamol-based painkillers, effective until the end of January.

Paracetamol, particularly in forms suitable for children, has been in short supply for the past six months, mainly because of a Chinese ban on the export of the raw materials required.

For several months now, the National Medicines Security Agency (ANSM) has been asking French pharmacies to ration the amount of paracetamol sold to individual clients.

“Despite the success of that initiative,” according to the official statement announcing the ban on internet sales, “it has not enabled the health authorities to surmount the shortage of paracetamol.”

Online sales of paracetamol are thus forbidden until the end of this month. Global sales of paracetamol have increased by 13 percent since the beginning of the Covid pandemic.

In France, over-the-counter medication such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, and cold and flu remedies can only be purchased at a pharmacy.

In December, the Health Minister, François Braun, had warned that, even with strict control of over-the-counter sales of paracetamol, the supply situation remained complicated. Braun said that it was unlikely to be resolved “for several weeks.”

China, which has recently lifted strict Covid lockdown and ended the enforcement of its zero-infection policy, now has millions of sufferers demanding paracetamol painkillers to treat Covid symptoms.

The Chinese government had banned exports of paracetamol, even though the country produces much of the active ingredient, which is used by laboratories worldwide.

Similar supply problems involving Chinese drug wholesalers have led to a shortage of other popular treatments, notably the antibiotic amoxicillin.

Insulin used in the treatment of diabetes is also in short supply.

The local production of amoxicillin was allowed to slow dramatically during the Covid crisis because demand was low for a drug normally used to treat infections that were less prevalent during the surge of the coronavirus.

Factory production lines have had to be hastily reactivated in the face of this winter’s triple threat of flu, Covid, and the childhood respiratory infection bronchiolitis.

The French government has promised to find alternative sources of raw materials for the manufacture of popular treatments and to resolve the current shortages in the coming weeks or months.

The minister has recognized that the current supply crisis underlines the need for France to achieve autonomy in the production of pharmaceutical raw materials.

The group of communist senators in the French upper house, the Senate, have promised to launch a commission of inquiry to discover why many vital pharmaceutical products have become “thirty times more scarce over the past decade.”

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