Donald Trump has invoked Korean war-era powers for the second time in order to force companies to make components for critical life-saving ventilators for coronavirus patients.
“I have issued an order under the Defense Production Act to more fully ensure that domestic manufacturers can produce ventilators needed to save American lives,” Mr Trump said in a statement.
The use of the measure by the US president, which gives the government powers to essentially take over parts of the industrial base for national emergencies, comes as ventilators are in short supply while the number of coronavirus cases soar.
Mr Trump said it would help companies — including General Electric, Hill-Rom, Medtronic, ResMed, Royal Philips, and Vyaire Medical — secure the supplies needed to make ventilators.
“I am grateful to these and other domestic manufacturers for ramping up their production of ventilators during this difficult time,” he said, adding that it would “save lives by removing obstacles in the supply chain that threaten the rapid production of ventilators”.
The order comes just days after the president invoked the Korean war-era law to compel General Motors to make ventilators. Mr Trump had faced intense criticism for not invoking it earlier as governors warned that a lack of ventilators was the greatest challenge in dealing with the rapid rise in patients in many parts of the country.
Mr Trump’s move came as the number of coronavirus cases in the US rose to 236,000, while the death toll rose to 5,648. Doctors and nurses across the US have complained about a lack of key equipment, including masks and other protective gear for medical staff. But hospitals say the biggest shortage is for ventilators, which are essential to help patients who face difficulty breathing after contracting the highly contagious virus.
Mr Trump has stepped up efforts to tackle the crisis in recent days, particularly as the scientists on his coronavirus task force have warned that the US could see almost a quarter-million deaths, even if people follow the strict social distancing guidelines that the federal government recommended remain in place until the end of April.
A spokesman for Philips welcomed the move, saying it would help the company scale up from producing 1,000 ventilators now to 2,000 within two months and 4,000 by the end of the third quarter. Each device requires more than 650 specialised components from suppliers in the US, Asia and Europe.
“The weakest link in this whole chain is the ability of our suppliers to also scale with us. If we want to grow our production fourfold then all our suppliers will also have to grow their production fourfold. The DPA is now [being] used to facilitate exactly that,” he said. “There are regions in the US that are in lockdown. The DPA allows that supplier to stay open and to continue the production and delivery of the components.”
GE welcomed the move, saying it would address supply chain constraints. The group has already doubled its ventilator capacity and is looking to do so again by the end of June.
Medtronic said it was waiting for guidance from the health and human services department about the impact of the move. It said it thought the administration was “working to ensure that ventilator manufacturers, such as Medtronic, have the necessary supplies we need to continue to increase our production of these critical products”.
Medtronic is looking to increase production from 300 ventilators per week to more than 1,000 by the end of June.
As well as measures to force US companies into action, the White House has also sought help from other nations, including Russia, which sent a cargo of medical equipment, including ventilators, to the US on Wednesday.