Coronavirus: 'Wartime effort' needed to make protective gear

Faisal Islam
Economics editor
@faisalislamon Twitter

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Clothing-makers, unions and health workers have called on the government to "unleash a national effort" to make anti-coronavirus protective gear.

They want mothballed factories to be reopened and repurposed to make face masks, gowns and goggles for carers.

The government has not acknowledged an equipment shortage, although it has said there are distribution issues.

But doctors, nurses and even NHS supply managers have now gone public with their concerns.

A number of doctors, trusts and even a cabinet minister have established direct supply chains between manufacturers and their local hospitals.

Unlike the national push for ventilators, which will result in a few dozen new machines rolling off production lines this weekend, the government has not yet called for a similar effort to make personal protection equipment (PPE), which is also in demand across the world.

Some of the country's most influential unions including Unite, Unison, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing, as well as industry groups Make UK and the aerospace group ADS, have all signed up to a "call for arms" so that "UK PLC can swing into action".

Steve Turner, the assistant general secretary of Unite said: "We have plants and people standing idle and underutilised when they could be put to great use in defence of the public's health.

"Government must now move from soundbite to action and put out a 'call-to-arms' to existing providers, materials suppliers and manufacturers... we could have a manufacturing army up and running, producing a range of PPE and essential supplies, in a matter of days."

ADS chief Paul Everitt said: "Manufacturers have the capabilities needed to help the government and the NHS address the challenges they are facing and we are working with them to help make sure they can access the equipment they require."

The British Medical Association's Dr David Wrigley said healthcare workers were "enduring severe shortages" and "suffering a postcode lottery" when it came to vital protective equipment.

He said the government had to "urgently spearhead a national drive the likes of which has not been seen in peacetime and support UK manufacturers right now to make the vital PPE equipment health and care workers need".

The collection of industry representatives and workers also called for temporary changes to copyright and patent rules to address restrictions on the manufacturing of protective equipment.

The government said it was doubly prepared for a pandemic after stockpiling protective equipment in preparation for a pandemic, like coronavirus, and also a no-deal Brexit. It said 397 million items of protective equipment have been distributed.

Other nations have organised massive bulk purchases of protective gear. Italy, for example, has announced its intention to make 90 million masks a month. France, meanwhile, has ordered 600 million masks and the US state of California plans to buy 500 million.

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