China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi asked Switzerland to “significantly step up supplies” in a phone call with his Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis, Beijing said on Wednesday.
“Countries such as Switzerland are suppliers of important components for ventilators. We hope Switzerland can increase their supply substantially to help enterprises increase production, and alleviate the urgency of countries,” Wang said.
Cassis said he would work with China to increase production of ventilators, as well as medicines and vaccines, and ensure the stability of supply chains.
In the US, carmakers like Ford, Tesla and GM have pledged to switch production to medical supplies to make ventilators, masks and other medical equipment, but the shortages are still daunting.
The World Economic Forum said last year – before the new coronavirus emerged – that 77,000 new ventilators would be enough to meet market demand.
However, an estimate released on Wednesday by a research branch of Chinese finance news site EastMoney put the combined requirements of the US, Germany, Britain, France and Italy at nearly 1 million. New York City alone will need an additional 30,000 ventilators in April.
China is a top producer of medical gloves, gowns and other crucial equipment – like ventilators – in the treatment of respiratory illnesses, but its industry ministry said on Wednesday that suppliers faced two challenges – huge international demand and limited capacity.
Huang Libin, director of the ministry’s operation monitoring and coordination bureau, said parts shortages, foreign quality standards and strict new rules placed on China’s medical exports, were among the forces preventing production from expanding at a faster rate.
Last week China placed new export restrictions on medical equipment after several European countries reported receiving substandard products from Chinese manufacturers.
Huang said China’s current average daily output of protective medical clothing exceeded 1.5 million sets and could “in theory” meet demand, though not all of China’s capacity met the various standards of importers like the US, EU and Japan.
Another industry official, Chen Kelong, said that, under current supply conditions, China could produce about 2,200 invasive ventilators per week – not even a fifth of the world’s total production capacity. He did not elaborate on China’s weekly capacity under normal circumstances.
“It’s not very realistic to think China can completely fulfil the supplies for global pandemic prevention,” Chen said, adding that high-end medical devices required longer production times to make sure safety standards were met.
Compounding the difficulties was the shock to supplies of medical equipment, at home and abroad, caused by the coronavirus outbreak, he said.
“Under these conditions of the epidemic, it is basically impossible in the short-term, and difficult in the long-term, to achieve large increases in supply through expanding production, or by shifting production from other industries,” Chen said.