March 16, 2020 / 9:30 AM / 15 days ago

Make us ventilators to fight coronavirus, UK asks Ford and Rolls Royce

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain has asked manufacturers including Ford (F.N), Honda (7267.T) and Rolls Royce (RR.L) to help make health equipment including ventilators to cope with the coronavirus outbreak and will look at using hotels as hospitals.

A couple wearing face masks walk down Clapham High Street, as the number of coronavirus cases grow around the world, in London, Britain March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Britain, which has reported 55 coronavirus deaths and 1,543 cases, on Monday announced it was ramping up its battle against the coronavirus outbreak, shutting down social life and ordering the most vulnerable to isolate themselves for 12 weeks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to more than 60 manufacturing businesses and organizations to ask them to help step up the production of “vital medical equipment” such as ventilators for the National Health Service, a spokeswoman for his Downing Street office said.

“The Prime Minister made clear that responding to coronavirus and reducing the spread of the peak requires a national effort,” the spokeswoman said.

“He asked manufacturers to rise to this immediate challenge by offering skills and expertise as well as manufacturing the components themselves. Businesses can get involved in any part of the process: design, procurement, assembly, testing, and shipping.”

Hotels will be used as emergency hospitals, retired doctors are being asked to come back to work and some elective surgery is being canceled.

AIR AND BEDS

Many countries are trying to buy ventilators, used to keep people with coronavirus alive if they struggle to breathe.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there had been an enthusiastic response to the call for ventilator production.

“We will buy as many ventilators as are made,” he later told parliament. “It is not a question of putting a target on it, we are just going after as many as we possibly can.”

It was, though, not immediately clear how a manufacturer of jet engines or cars could turn to producing specialist medical equipment, which international parts would be needed or what certification would be required.

One option could be to adopt defense industry rules which can be used to order certain factories to follow a design to produce a required product quickly. British industry has the capability to do that but is unlikely to make the electronic components that would also be required.

Rolls Royce, a British engineering company that makes the jet engines for the biggest Boeing and Airbus planes, said it was ready to help in any way it could.

Honda, which built just under 110,000 cars at its facility in Swindon in England last year, said it had been asked by the government to explore the feasibility of making additional ventilators.

Slideshow (4 Images)

Ford operates two engine factories in Britain, which made just under 1.1 million engines in 2019. A spokesman said it was assessing the situation. One of the two sites, in Bridgend in Wales, is due to close this year.

Peugeot-owned (PEUP.PA) Vauxhall has also been asked to help.

With a steep increase in cases expected, Hancock said on Sunday many hotels were empty and could provided ready-built facilities for looking after people, but an oxygen supply and ventilation equipment would be needed.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton; editing by Michael Holden and Timothy Heritage

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