Hong Kong turns to traditional medicine to help tame an Omicron outbreak.

After deploying armies of workers to lock down residents and announcing plans to build a large makeshift hospital, the authorities in Hong Kong are taking another strategy out of China’s coronavirus playbook: using traditional Chinese medicine to treat Covid-19 patients.

Chinese state news media announced on Sunday that the mainland government had donated 150,000 boxes of traditional Chinese medicine to Hong Kong in an effort to help the city tamp down a surge in Covid cases fueled by the Omicron variant. As of Monday, Hong Kong had reported nearly 40,000 cases in the latest wave, surpassing the total case numbers for 2020 and 2021 combined. Thousands of new cases are being reported each day.

It is unclear if the medicine — which Hong Kong news outlets have identified as Jinhua Qinggan granules — will help the city’s authorities get the outbreak under control. The medicine was developed during the H1N1 swine flu epidemic in 2009 and consists of twelve herbal components, including honeysuckle, mint and licorice, according to the Chinese state-owned newspaper China Daily. China Daily also reported that the medicine had been effective in treating mild and moderate patients in Wuhan, China, in early 2020 and that it had helped stave off severe infection.

There have been, however, relatively few clinical trials involving traditional Chinese treatments and Covid. Some commentators have also raised concerns that the traditional Chinese treatments are more of a propaganda tool from Beijing to bolster China’s global image. Under Xi Jinping, China’s top leader and a vocal proponent of traditional medicine, Beijing has exported the treatments around the world as part of a wider pandemic diplomacy campaign. The health authorities in Pakistan, a close ally of China, reported last month that a small clinical trial involving the treatment had been successful.

The use of traditional Chinese medicine to treat Covid is the latest sign of how Hong Kong is under pressure to hew to Beijing’s stringent “zero Covid” approach. Prescribing traditional Chinese medicine has been a key part of the mainland’s strategy since the start of the pandemic in Wuhan. Copying the Chinese model has proved difficult in Hong Kong, which lacks the mainland’s ability to enforce near-total control and is also dogged by low levels of public trust in the government.

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