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A unit of Sanko Manufacturing Co's Lotus SS-1200 ventilator Photo: REUTERS/Issei Kato
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Abe wants to build ventilators that hospitals probably don't need

39 Comments
By Tim Kelly and Maki Shiraki

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to build 2,000 new ventilators for coronavirus patients that even the government says hospitals are unlikely to need.

Instead, the plan, announced in April, appears to be more about bringing home manufacturing of equipment seen as key to the country's national security, a long-held focus for Abe that has deepened with the coronavirus crisis.

Abe wants Japanese companies to build 2,000 ventilators to add to an unused stock of 4,700 already 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.

But even the health ministry acknowledges that hospitals, which now buy almost all their ventilators overseas, likely have enough, while industry experts say Japan's small ventilator makers will struggle to produce more than the few dozen a month they usually build.

"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. "It is true there aren't enough qualified people to operate them."

Abe's plan shows how the coronavirus crisis is spurring political concern about the potential vulnerability of overseas supply lines. Japan is also offering firms money to shift production of face masks and other products from China.

Japan needs to cut dependence on imports from the United States, Europe and China, said the health ministry's Maeda.

"It's a matter of national security. The coronavirus outbreak has shown that."

Ventilators are used to inflate the fluid-filled lungs of critically ill COVID-19 patients through a tube inserted into the windpipe, and require constant monitoring.

Yet so far, only around 5% of seriously ill COVID-19 patients in Japan need the procedure known as intubation, a panel of experts has said. In early May there were 4,500 hospitalised cases, meaning roughly 270 were on ventilators. In Japan just under 800 people have died.

"It's like building fighter jets without having pilots," a leading intensive care specialist said about the government's plan. Every new ventilator needs health professionals who are in short supply, he said, asking not to be identified.

The Japan Society of Respiratory Care also said there are enough ventilators, barring a major coronavirus surge.

CATS AND DOGS

Ventilator makers require technicians to ramp up production, but even with additional manpower, they still need to find components overseas amid strong international demand.

"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 an hour by train from Tokyo, Sanko is making coronavirus ventilators with parts from human anesthesia machines and ventilators designed for cats and dogs.

It usually hand builds around 30 ventilators a year, and initially proposed to build 300. It later scaled that back to 50.

Sanko buys electronic boards from China and will have to wait as long as six months for more, Endo said. Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry officials, who visited Sanko, connected it with a Japanese company that can build the same part, but conducting tests will take time and money, he said.

"We can't be in a situation where we run out of ventilators," a METI official told Reuters.

Nihon Kohden, which builds 30 ventilators a month, is aiming to manufacture 1,000 within six months. It is still in talks to secure parts, a spokeswoman said.

'RISKY MARKET'

Given the parts shortage, Abe has asked Toyota Motor Corp, Nissan Motor Co, Sony Corp and others to help.

Unlike U.S. President Donald Trump, who has invoked Korean War-era laws to compel manufacturers to build some 200,000 ventilators, Abe's more modest 2,000-target faces hurdles because he can't force Japanese companies to cooperate.

"Companies tend to see ventilators and other invasive medical devices as too much of a gamble," an official at the Japan Association of Medical Devices Industries said.

Speaking as head of the Japan auto industry lobby, Toyota president Akio Toyoda said automakers wanted to take a back seat by providing manufacturing know-how, saying it was "not easy" to make products that so directly affect human life.

An auto executive told Reuters the industry had other concerns.

"We are willing to cooperate, but it's a small and risky market," the executive said, asking not to be identified.

A Sony spokesman said it won't be responsible for ventilator design or development. Nissan said nothing had been decided.

The health ministry's Maeda said there's no deadline for Japan Inc to deliver. "Our aim is to achieve a balance between imports and those made locally."

© Thomson Reuters 2020.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

39 Comments
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He following lock step with Trump! Evidence now is starting to show that, particularly with elderly patients, using a ventilator has been one of the reasons for higher numbers of deaths from COVID and doctors are rethinking about using them at all!

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Abe can’t even get cloth masks delivered!

And now the ventilator pledge?

He locked down the country for two months leaving millions without work and no money-time to leave office, no?

16 ( +19 / -3 )

Scores of doctors are claiming that putting Covid patients on ventilators is overkill (literally).

The machines force air into the lungs and often do more damage that good.

8 ( +12 / -4 )

He is desperate to look like he is in control but just another example of wasting our tax money.

16 ( +17 / -1 )

Yubaru, I believe other countries have done the same. The only difference here is that, as usual, he always acts after the problem. Working here for so long, I have learned that Japanese in leadership positions are not very good at preventive measures. They always wait for a problem to happen then panic to solve it, (of course after seeking out a scapegoat for their own neglect for seeing the possibility of a problem) and then act on it.

I my self have brought potential problems to the attention of my superiors and was told don't worry about it. So instead of spending a day or two to tackle the problem and avoid having angry customers, we wind up in crisis management mode and spend a week or two solving it and have to apologize to customers

18 ( +19 / -1 )

Havent even got the application forms for the apparent 10 man yen the masks were another scandal like to know where all that money has gone...when is enough enough...he should hang his head in disgrace and resign..Get with the program Mario its May not January you a few months behind...

12 ( +13 / -1 )

Should be made 100% within the country. If there's an excess they can be donated to poorer countries.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Can see it now at the end of this year.

Most used word of 2020 "Pledge"

4 ( +5 / -1 )

What is about this man? Experts say don't need a vetenary school he pushes it through, don't need two masks pushes it through, don't need law change to bureaucrats retirement age, but he pushes it anyway. Of course it all benefits his friends not the population. The mans inability to make informed decisions for the benefit of civilians is unfathnoble.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

Havent even got the application forms for the apparent 10 man yen the masks were another scandal like to know where all that money has gone...when is enough enough...he should hang his head in disgrace and resign..Get with the program Mario its May not January you a few months behind...

Check the website of the ward you live in as it's they who decide the timing. It's already been mentioned in the media several times by now. Or if you have your my number card, you can apply right away. Someone i know already received his money that way.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Let me guess...

Like with the masks, his friend just so happens to run a company making them...?

7 ( +8 / -1 )

It sounds like more amakudari. We have not even received the masks yet (although our in-laws have)

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Gotta be better than those Russian ones.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Abe wants Japanese companies to build 2,000 ventilators to add to an unused stock of 4,700 already 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.

So in summary...lets make lots of stuff that we don,t need while having shortages of stuff thats needed.

Always late , always off the mark....but please vote for LDP at the next election. Yoroshiku...

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I've heard there are enough ventilators but not enough operating technicians. Some news showed us ventilators are just sitting in the rooms at hospitals.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

A sick joke.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

He is starting to look like a comedian. 5 steps behind, off target, apparently clueless. What's next? Will he help schools catch up with technology by providing an abacus for each student? (Priced at 10 times the going rate and manufactured by one of his cronies, of course.)

6 ( +6 / -0 )

If you build it, they will come.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

He made masks that are unusable, so it seems like the next logical step.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Abe wants Japanese companies to build 2,000 ventilators to add to an unused stock of 4,700 already 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.

Do we need more now and urgently? As of yesterday (22/5), only 170 ventilators are active.

COVID-19重症者における人工呼吸器装着数の推移

https://covid19.jsicm.org/

The new policy would cause oversupply.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

So in addition to masks we don't need, we can now expect ventilators we also don't need. OK then.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Better build CPAP machines; they are not invasive, easier to use, and can be used on a variety of patients.

Interesting that Toyota and Sony seem afraid to help, compared to Lotus, Mercedes, McLaren, Dyson and other companies that worked together on a simpler design to operate and make.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

"Abe wants to build ventilators ......"

Had to laugh when I read this headline.

He can't even achieve a prompt delivery of those "Abe-NO-masks" but wants to get even more difficult stuff done? Okay, okay, I got it .... some companies are supposed to build those machines, sorry!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Disappointed in the people who wrote this article, it is missing one important factor, the cost and price the government is going to pay as well as price of comparable products in the market. Doesn't mean because it is for national security the government can print money and just pay any amount.

The piling of the national debt continues unabated and until policy formation is wrested from bureaucrats and made the responsibility of politicians like the democratic party tried to do during their short rein and were sabotaged big time by bureaucrats.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

This follows his successful mask strategy.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Once you reach the stage where you need a ventilator, your chances of recovery are basically nil. Even if you live, you will barely be able to breathe due to compromised lung capacity. Another scheme by Abe to get backhanders from industry.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Yes, let's wait for patients to start cramming up the hospitals before building more respirators.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

the world had a opportunity to learn from SARS but most didn’t so if we can learn and be prepared for another wave and or another virus surely it’s a good idea. Dib dib dob. Lucky favors the prepared.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Yes, let's wait for patients to start cramming up the hospitals before building more respirators

It is clearly stated in the article and also pointed out by some posters that there is an excess

and during this pandemic very few were used. Money is not unlimited and shouldn't just be wasted

because the BOJ has the ability to run the printing press.

Same as there were Auto PCR machines in big universities and private testing institutions that can

run 24/7 and churn out 100,000 test a day but were never put to use and are gathering dust yet the government wants to purchase Antigen PCR kits. It is not a bottomless money pit the younger

generations will have to pay for these excesses.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Following Trump.

Just test more!!!! WTH!!!! TEST!!!!

Also evidence is showing that it is a blood disease that causes respiratory issues in the lungs because the soft tissue in the lungs is most vulnerable parts of the body so it attacks there. Treat it with blood thinning agent BEFORE it gets to the lungs.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

this guy is clown.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A very sad clown.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It is clearly stated in the article and also pointed out by some posters that there is an excess

and during this pandemic very few were used. Money is not unlimited and shouldn't just be wasted

Yes, Japan was extremely fortunate that was no massive demand for the ventilators, that only a small part of the total were actually used.

If you could advise the government of the total number of ventilators that would be needed next time there's a pandemic, that would be awesome.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

run 24/7 and churn out 100,000 test a day but were never put to use and are gathering dust yet the government wants to purchase Antigen PCR kits. It is not a bottomless money pit the younger

Weren't those antibody test kits? The purpose for those test kits is different than for the regular PCR tests

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Weren't those antibody test kits? The purpose for those test kits is different than for the regular PCR tests

Nope, auto PCR machines

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Ok. If you could advise the govt also that they won't be needed anymore that would be super.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Doesn't Abe have any advisors? He does things without getting any advice, his stupid mask idea is a perfect example. It makes sense to get advice from professionals before making public statements. Masks which are not suitable for viruses and now ventilators that nobody needs and also pushing some retirement law in a middle of a health crisis! Because he is in deep s***, he needs friends in the prosecutor's office.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Great idea. All excess stock we can sell to trump

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to build 2,000 new ventilators for coronavirus patients that even the government says hospitals are unlikely to need.

...While increasingly there are indications that these ventilators do more damage than good. Brilliant.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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