Israel retools missile production line to mass produce ventilators

TEL AVIV, March 31 (Reuters) - Israel has converted a missile production facility to mass produce ventilators and offset a shortage of the life-saving machines as the coronavirus continues to spread, the Israeli Defence Ministry said on Tuesday.

Israel has reported 17 fatalities and close to 5,000 cases. Defence Minister Naftali Bennett has warned that Israel only has 2,000 ventilators and needs many more of the breathing devices to help victims recover from the respiratory illness.

Countries around the world have reported ventilator shortages and some have leaned on private companies and their militaries to boost production.

The Israeli initiative is a collaboration between the defence ministry, state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and medical device maker Inovytec.

“This morning, the production line was inaugurated in the classified missile production department of IAI, after which dozens of ventilators were tested and assembled,” the ministry said in a statement.

Some 30 ventilators have been delivered to Israel’s health ministry, the statement said. It did not indicate how many machines it planned to produce daily or whether they were being made available for export as well as local use.

The rapid retooling of the missile production line was completed in days, the statement said.

“(Israel) must develop independent capabilities in everything related to dealing with the COVID-19 virus pandemic,” Bennett said.

“We cannot remain dependent on procurement from other countries,” he added.

Reporting by Rami Ayyub Editing by Sonya Hepinstall