Switzerland awash with ventilators after coronavirus buying spree

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ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss authorities are trying to figure out what to do with a potential surplus of ventilators which they snapped up in the scramble for equipment to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The Swiss stockpile of hygienic masks has also swollen to more than 200 million, with more on the way, the defence ministry said, confirming a SonntagsZeitung newspaper report.

The paper cited minutes from a government coronavirus task force as saying that cantonal authorities were sending excess ventilators back to the federal government, which did not have the resources to store and maintain them.

That meant cantons could keep them, sell them to other countries or donate them, perhaps to developing countries, the paper said.

As the toll of sick and dying from the COVID-19 respiratory disease mounted earlier this year, countries brawled for scarce supplies of ventilators used to help patients breathe. Each one costs tens of thousands of dollars.

The defence ministry said of the 900 ventilators delivered by June 24, 261 were in storage at the army medical service and 639 were distributed to cantons. Another 300 ventilators were to arrive by mid-August.

The government tasked the army medical service to buy supplies that cantons could not arrange as the pandemic spread. It asked parliament to approve more than 2.5 billion Swiss francs ($2.66 billion) for this, of which around a fifth has been spent, the ministry said.

Buyers were allowed to pay in the top quartile of market prices to ensure they could secure supplies.

Procurement of protective equipment, vaccines, medicine and testing capacity was still under way, it said, adding it would report on the total cost of purchases once they were done.

Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Toby Chopra