The fifth wave of the COVID-19 outbreak in Hong Kong has strengthened the social recognition of traditional Chinese medicine in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 symptoms.
Last week, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government asked the central government to send another batch of Chinese mainland medicine practitioners to the city to help fight the pandemic.
It also launched a free Chinese medicine tele-consultation service for COVID-19 patients quarantined at home. The scheme will run for two months and assist 20,000 COVID-19 patients in Hong Kong. It could be extended if responses are satisfactory.
Beginning early next month, the government will distribute anti-pandemic kits to 3 million Hong Kong households within seven days. In addition to 20 KN95 masks, 20 rapid antigen tests, anti-pandemic information kits and greeting cards, the kits also contain two TCM capsules. The government has already distributed some 1.2 million Chinese medicine sachets given by the mainland.
Three traditional Chinese medicines－Huoxiang Zhengqi tablets, Jinhua Qinggan granules and Lianhua Qingwen－are recognized as being able to treat mild COVID-19 symptoms. Lianhua Qingwen has been proved to confer preventive effects on those exposed to COVID-19 by improving clinical symptoms such as fever, fatigue and cough, shortening the duration of symptoms and treatment, and improving the rate of clinical cures, according to a research article by mainland medical science researchers at the Second Hospital of Hebei Medical University and the Hebei Provincial Corps Hospital of the Chinese People's Armed Police Force.
The Institute of Chinese Medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Singapore-based TCM manufacturer and retailer Eu Yan Sang teamed up this month to make 10,000 TCM sachets based on a herbal formula that can help prevent COVID-19 infection by boosting a person's immunity.
The sachets were distributed to 1,000 care workers and elderly people at nursing homes, as well as medical workers in the city, with no major adverse effects having been reported.
The herbal formula consists of two parts: one supports the qi－the body's vital force－and the other is a simple herbal combination to treat mild symptoms. The formula proved to be safe and effective when it was used during the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in Hong Kong in 2003, according to Leung Ping-chung, director of the Centre for Clinical Trials on Chinese Medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Institute of Chinese Medicine.
Eu Yan Sang has agreed to manufacture more herbal sachets and has sourced ingredients sufficient to produce 30,000 to 40,000. The targeted recipients will be care workers and the elderly at nursing homes, as well as medical workers.
"The pandemic has made people more aware of the efficacy of Chinese medicine in preventing infectious diseases," Leung said.
The institute is doing research on adding supplements and probiotics to the herbal formula with the aim of manufacturing an oral treatment that could boost immunological defenses against COVID-19.
Kenlay Wong Kwong-fai, executive president of the Hong Kong Chinese Medicine Industry Association, said: "The efficacy of the traditional Chinese medicine Lianhua Qingwen in curbing COVID-19 symptoms has been greatly recognized in the community. The development of TCM is gradually being recognized by the government and the general public."
Chan Wing-kwong, president of the Hong Kong Registered Chinese Medicine Practitioners Association, said that as more novel coronavirus patients consult TCM practitioners, the popularity of TCM in the city will continue to rise.
Wai Yuen Tong Medicine, which operates the largest network of TCM practitioners and pharmacists in Hong Kong, will offer consultations at its stores and is also launching TCM tele-medical consultations, enabling patients to receive consultations without leaving home and have prescribed medicines delivered to them on the same day.