Coronavirus: UK asks manufacturers to retune production lines to make ventilators

Rolls-Royce and Ford among major companies approached for support

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks out from an ambulance during a visit to Pilgrim Hospital in Boston, Britain August 5, 2019.  Darren Staples/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

The UK has appealed to some of its biggest industrial firms such as Rolls-Royce for help in manufacturing health equipment including ventilators as the coronavirus tightened its grip on the country.

There have been 1,543 positive tests the government said on Monday, up from 1,372 on Sunday. There are fears the UK’s embattled National Health System could become overwhelmed if the virus takes hold of the country. Many countries are trying to buy ventilators, used to keep people with coronavirus alive if they struggle to breathe.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been criticised in some parts for taking a more relaxed approach to the spread of the disease, especially in comparison to some countries who have imposed stringent lockdowns. A spokesperson for Mr Johnson said he would speak to manufactures to seek support for the production of “essential medical equipment”.

Rolls-Royce said it was ready to help Mr Johnson's administration.

“We understand that the Government is exploring ways in which businesses can help deal with the outbreak of COVID-19. As they shape their plans, we are keen to do whatever we can to help the Government and the country at this time and will look to provide any practical help we can," a spokesperson said.

Ford said it has also been in contact Mr Johnson’s government over cranking up production.

"We want to help where we can in the current situation and we have been approached by the UK Government on this specific matter and are currently in discussion," a spokesperson told The National.

Japanese car marker Honda, which has a large UK presence, confirmed it had been contacted but did not give any further information.

"We have been contacted by government about the feasibility of Honda supporting the manufacture of additional ventilator," a spokesperson told The National.

Peugeot-owned Vauxhall has also been reportedly asked to help as has Ford, which made just under 1.1 million engines in 2019.

"He will stress the vital role of Britain’s manufacturers in preparing the country for a significant spread of coronavirus and call on them to step up and support the nationwide effort to fight the virus," a spokesperson for Mr Johnson said.

He is currently engaged in talks with G7 leaders over the crisis and will give a press conference later on Monday – now set to be a daily occurrence.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there had been an enthusiastic response to the call for ventilator production. A special hotline was set up in the business ministry on Monday for other firms to volunteer.

Contingency plans to commandeer resources for the outbreak are gradually emerging. Hotels will be used as emergency hospitals, retired doctors are being asked to come back to work and some elective surgery is being cancelled.