Japanese PM asks companies to build 2,000 ventilators; hospitals say not needed

WION Web Team Tokyo, Japan May 21, 2020, 10.27 AM(IST)

Shinzo Abe Photograph:( Reuters )

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Shinzo Abe has urged Japanese companies to build 2,000 ventilators. However, this will seemingly add to an already existing unused stock of 4,700 ventilators in hospitals.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to build and provide 2,000 new ventilators to help coronavirus patients and hospitals.

However, the government officials and health experts say they might not need these many ventilators, as only around 5% of seriously ill coronavirus patients have had to be out on ventilators in Japan.

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Abe has urged Japanese companies to build 2,000 ventilators. However, this will seemingly add to an already existing unused stock of 4,700 ventilators in hospitals. A further 8,300 are deployed in critical care units, of which only a fraction are used to keep COVID-19 patients alive.

The industry industry experts have claimed that Japan's small-scale ventilator manufacturers will not be able to produce more than few dozen ventilators a month, in comparison to their usual manufacturing. Health officials, too, feel that as almost all their ventilators are purchased overseas, the hospitals likely have enough.

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"It is probably more than Japan needs now," said Akihisa Maeda, an official at the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour who is responsible for medical device policy, about the number of ventilators. However, she also stated that Japan doesn't have enough qualified officials to operate the ventilators.

The decision of Japanese PM is being seen as a move to bring back manufacturing to Japan, and reduce the import dependency on China. Japan is also offering firms money to shift production of face masks and other products from China.

The same is being followed to reduce imports from the US and Europe. "It's a matter of national security. The coronavirus outbreak has shown that," said Health Minister.

However, what ventilator manufacturers are concerned about is availability of technicians, manpower and few components that are mainly available overseas.

"My first thought was, it's going to be tough to get the parts," said Akikazu Endo, sales and marketing manager at ventilator maker Sanko Manufacturing, about the government's plan.

At its small plant next to a vegetable field, Sanko is making coronavirus ventilators with parts from human anaesthesia machines and ventilators designed for cats and dogs. The manufacturer proposed to build 300, a jump of 270, but later scaled back to 50 due to the underlying issues of tough availability of small parts and less manpower.