By Michael Erman

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Johnson & Johnson is running its Tylenol manufacturing at maximum capacity in North America to meet surging demand due to the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak, a top executive said on Thursday.

The company said it is stepping up its manufacturing of the drug globally.

Demand for the drug rose two to four times normal levels in the last three weeks, hitting its highest point over the past week, Kathleen Widmer, group chairman for North America of Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health, said in an interview.

“Just when we thought we had seen the highest demand we had ever seen for Tylenol, this week the demand has grown even more,” she said.

Demand for drugs containing Tylenol’s main ingredient, known as paracetamol or acetaminophen, has soared in particular after France’s health minister suggested that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen could worsen COVID-19. However, the World Health Organization said there is not currently data to back this up, and has not recommended people stop using NSAIDs.

Before this latest surge, demand was already high as consumers stocked up on the drug ahead of potential quarantines.

J&J is not experiencing any shortages of its raw materials for Tylenol, and has taken steps including adding crews and increasing the use of equipment and capacity in plants in Puerto Rico and Pennsylvania where the drug is produced. The Puerto Rico plant is running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Widmer said.

“We’re running it at all-out, maximum capacity,” she said.

Fears around shortages of some drugs emerged after the coronavirus outbreak wreaked havoc on supply chains and were amplified earlier this month when India, the world’s main supplier of generic drugs, restricted the export of some ingredients as well as medicines including paracetamol.

Widmer said that where it can, the company is narrowing its Tylenol production down to the products it can deliver the fastest.

Those products are the traditional extra strength white caplet and 4 oz bottles of children Tylenol, which will represent most of the Tylenol currently being produced.

The company has also turned off systems that manage orders from customers automatically, to avoid sending too much inventory to a single retail customer.

“We totally understand that people want to be reassured that they have what they need at home should they or someone they love become ill,” Widmer said.

(Reporting by Michael Erman, Editing by Franklin Paul and Tom Brown)