• Reuters

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A medical equipment maker said it was recently approached by the government to mass produce veterinary ventilators to treat human coronavirus patients and that dozens of other countries have expressed interest as well.

Metran Co. Chief Executive Kazufuku Nitta said the government officials came calling late last month and that the United States, Britain and India are among over 30 other countries it is talking to.

Ventilators, which help patients struggling to breathe, are in short supply in many countries dealing with COVID-19, the pneumonia-like disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

In the United States, similar companies are moving to simplify ventilator designs and push other work aside to increase production. Even automakers have offered to make the devices. Elsewhere, Swiss manufacturer Hamilton Medical AG said Britain faces a “massive shortage” of ventilators.

Privately held Metran also makes ventilators for people, but Nitta said the veterinary devices are simpler, cost a tenth as much to produce and easier to operate.

“In a pandemic, there won’t be enough doctors with expert knowledge on site,” Nitta said in a recent interview at Metran’s factory in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture. “A simple and a safe machine is needed for doctors who are not familiar with the device.”

As the coronavirus count continues to climb in Japan, concern is growing about the strain the pandemic is putting on the health care system. More than 4,500 people have tested positive for the virus — over 1,000 in Tokyo alone — and more than 100 have died, NHK reported.

On Friday, the government ordered regions with the most serious outbreaks to save hospital beds for severely ill patients.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the Diet that his government had secured over 8,000 ventilators for patients in serious condition.

Metran is considering a system for producing 5,000 to 15,000 animal respirators, Nitta said, without providing a time frame.

He nevertheless expects demand to outpace that, so the company is also considering licensing the product so it can be made overseas.

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