Governments across Europe have intensified their search for ventilators as doctors and hospitals prepare for a continuing surge in patients infected with the Covid-19 virus.
Italy, the country at the epicentre of the European outbreak, told the country’s only ventilator manufacturer to quadruple monthly production, even deploying members of the armed forces to help meet the new quota.
Germany has ordered an additional 10,000 ventilators from a domestic supplier and France is conducting a study into its own stocks including outside the public health system to determine the adequate level or needs to order further supplies.
Ventilators are machines designed to put oxygen into the lungs of patients with acute respiratory difficulties. They are of critical importance for those in danger of lung failure, a typical cause of death for patients infected with the coronavirus.
In Italy, where medical staff have been told to prioritise the patients with the highest chances of survival because of the lack of the equipment, the country’s only producer Siare Engineering was asked by the government to start producing 500 ventilators a month, up from 125.
With more than 17,660 people infected, including 1,328 patients in intensive care, the country is fighting the biggest outbreak of the disease outside of China, where the virus emerged.
Siare Engineering — based in the northern province of Bologna, in one of the country’s most affected regions — has cancelled all orders from abroad. It is now only producing for Italy, Gianluca Preziosa, the managing director, said.
“All of a sudden, we found ourselves facing an operation of titanic proportions: we had to produce in a couple of months what this company would normally produce in two years,” Mr Preziosa wrote on Facebook on Thursday.
Siare Engineering is expected to deliver 2,000 ventilators by the end of July. The Italian army is expected to send 25 trained technicians next week to help increase production. Each ventilator costs €17,000.
German manufacturer Drägerwerk AG said in a regulatory statement on Friday that the order by the federal government would be stretched over the entire year.
The Lübeck-based company, one of the world’s leading producers of ventilators, added: “For this, the production capacity in Lübeck will be expanded considerably. In addition, Dräger will also deliver personal protection equipment for hospital personnel. Both will help shore up the service in the healthcare sector also with regard to the spread of the coronavirus.”
German hospitals already are among the best equipped in Europe when it comes to both intensive care beds and the availability of ventilators. According to the government, Germany has around 28,000 intensive care beds, of which 25,000 are equipped with ventilators.
A spokesman for Spectaris, the German industry federation that represents medical devices makers, said: “At the moment there are sufficient supplies of everything. What is important is to keep the number of new infections low. Otherwise we could see shortages.”
France, where President Emmanuel Macron announced the closures of all schools and universities from Monday because of the spreading virus, has 5,065 intensive care beds equipped with ventilators. However, health officials caution that many are already occupied by patients receiving medical care. It has another 7,364 intensive care beds that lack ventilators.
Meanwhile in Madrid, which accounts for about half of Spain’s 4,334 coronavirus patients as of Friday, doctors and local authorities have been pleading with the central government for more equipment.
“We need more supplies,” said Enrique Ruiz Escudero, the top medical official of the Madrid region, as he issued an “SOS” to central government. Ventilators are a key concern as local authorities in the capital city seek to triple intensive care beds in coming days.
Hospital staff hold told the Spanish press that their regular suppliers do not have products in stock and have criticised Germany for imposing export controls — which Berlin has pledged to relax.
As European countries fear shortages and requisition domestic production, China is lending a helping hand, donating medical supplies, including 40 ventilators, to Italy.
Additional reporting by Daniel Dombey in Madrid and David Keohane in Paris