COVID-19

Coronavirus: Britain calls on the engineering industry to rapidly produce ventilators 

General view as Tower Bridge and the Shard are lit blue in support of the NHS, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, London, Britain, March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville - RC2XRF9FKGWW

Landmarks all across the UK lit up blue to show support for the country's National Health Service. Image: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Paul Sandle
Kate Holton
Chief Correspondent , Thomson Reuters
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  • Britain is racing to order more ventilators to prepare for the worsening of the country's coronavirus outbreak.
  • The UK government has ordered 10,000 ventilators from Dyson alone.
  • A consortium of engineering and aerospace companies are also set to rapidly-produce the required ventilators.
  • Currently, the UK's National Health Service only has 8,000 ventilators, an amount experts believe will be insufficient to cope with the crisis.

Britain has placed an emergency order of 10,000 ventilators designed at breakneck speed by bagless vacuum cleaner company Dyson, the first fruits of an industry-wide call to arms to prepare for the looming peak of the coronavirus outbreak.

In another industry effort, a consortium of companies in the aerospace and engineering sectors are working with seven Formula One racing teams to ramp up production of existing ventilator models, with a manufacturing launch date penned in for March 30.

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Ahead of an expected surge of cases that could overwhelm Britain’s publicly funded health service, Prime Minister Boris Johnson made an urgent appeal to manufacturers to build ventilators to help keep patients alive.

Production of Dyson’s new CoVent ventilator could start early next month but the government made clear the order was dependent on it passing safety and regulatory tests.

“The core challenge was how to design and deliver a new, sophisticated medical product in volume and in an extremely short space of time,” billionaire founder James Dyson said in an email to staff seen by Reuters.

“The race is now on to get it into production.”

Dyson is able to draw on the company’s expertise in air movement, motors, power systems, manufacturing and supply chains to design and build an entirely new ventilator.

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The Dyson coVent ventilator. Image: Dyson

The company revolutionized the vacuum cleaner market with its bagless cyclonic device in the 1990s and has since gone on to build air purifiers, hand dryers and fans from its base in southwest England and manufacturing plants in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.

Target: 30,000

The aerospace and engineering consortium, meanwhile, includes such names as Rolls-Royce, BAE, Airbus and Siemens UK which will help existing medical device makers such as Penlon and Smiths Group to ramp up production.

It is waiting for the green light from government.

British engineer Babcock has also joined forces with a leading medical equipment company and experts from London’s Royal Brompton Hospital.

The companies have all sprung into action after the government said it needed another 30,000 ventilators to save the lives of patients who develop complications with COVID-19. The government is also acquiring the life-saving devices from private hospitals and international producers.

Britain currently has about 8,000 ventilators with another 8,000 on order to come into the health system in about a week.

Some 9,529 people had tested positive for the virus in the United Kingdom while 463 patients had died.

Britain has also bought 3.5 million antibody testing kits - largely used to determine if someone has already had the virus - and is currently making sure they work before distributing them.

Prototypes of an antibody test which could be a game-changer in the fight against the pandemic are being assessed and are ready to be optimized, the developer of the technology said.

Many staff within the National Health Service (NHS) have not been tested, a major concern for health workers and a cause of mounting criticism of the government’s response.

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