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Ventilator demands spur wave of ingenuity

The efforts to satisfy the urgent demand for ventilators, the machines that help stricken coronavirus patients breathe, are reminiscent of a wartime economic push.

In the UK, criticised last week for not taking up certain offers to source the machines, an industrial consortium named Ventilator Challenge UK — including companies such as Smiths Group, Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems — is now co-ordinating efforts.

In the US, President Donald Trump turned to praising the efforts of General Motors for its efforts after lambasting the company last week and invoking emergency powers to compel production. GM plans to produce 10,000 ventilators a month by summer.

Diagram showing the basic operation of a medical ventilator

US public health officials came up with a plan to address possible ventilator shortages 13 years ago, reports The New York Times, but the plan petered out with no new machines actually made.

The urgent demand has, however, sparked a wave of ingenuity. An Italian 3D printing start-up has converted a snorkelling mask for use with hospital ventilators, while a project involving Mercedes, Formula One and London university engineers has developed a breathing aid for use in intensive care that frees up ventilators for the most severely ill patients. 

Sifted, our site for tech start-ups, reports on the frenetic hackathons and crowdsourcing efforts to fill the gap, including a project making a ventilator from windscreen wiper motors. 

Markets

Oil prices continued to fall — even touching an 18-year low — on new concerns about the pandemic’s economic impact and a collapse in demandRussian oil groups, however, are well positioned for a price crash. By pumping more oil, the country can make life more difficult for rivals and help it expand its market share, says one oil chief.

When markets return to normal, investors may find the landscape fundamentally changed, says Jim McCormick of NatWest Markets. Here are four ways the crisis has changed capital markets.

The EU is split over the merits of a mutualised asset to share fiscal costs from the pandemic. Some say it encourages irresponsible spending but columnist Wolfgang Münchau says a nine-nation coalition of the willing should go ahead with their standalone eurozone “coronabond”.

Business

Accountants and law firms such as KPMG, Deloitte, PwC, EY and Linklaters are preparing to withhold payouts to partners to try to reduce the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Unlike their online counterparts, bricks-and-mortar retailers in the US are in a perilous position because of the crisis, reveals Alistair Gray, our US Retail Correspondent. Almost 630,000 businesses have been forced to close, and an estimated $430bn in industry revenues could disappear over the next three months.

Tom Braithwaite, our Companies Editor, recaps a bruising first quarter for global business. Airlines are lobbying for bailouts, the travel slump has hit hotels and cruise operators, the US shale boom has turned to bust and banks’ share prices have tumbled.

Global economy

Economic sentiment across Europe plunged in March, according to a regular EU survey. Italy was the worst performer, dropping 17.6 points to 83.7, the lowest level since 2013. The latest figures may yet not show the full impact of the virus, especially those for the UK. Italy is “probably a better guide to the state of sentiment in Britain right now,” said one economist.

Africa Editor David Pilling writes on the “break the glass” moment for the continent. The pandemic could wipe out 5-10 per cent of African GDP at a stroke, as commodity prices drop and tourism, trade and remittances shrivel. As for combating the virus, social distancing is almost impossible when millions depend on going out each day to earn a living and buy food from crowded markets.

Italy’s €25bn benefits package will be welcomed by many of the country’s workers, but will be of little use for those working in nero in the country’s vast informal and undocumented economy — accounting for as much as 20 per cent of GDP. The situation may serve as a catalyst for bringing non-criminal black market activity on to the books.

As migrant workers lose their jobs, it is not only the economies they work in that suffer, but also the economies of their home countries. Analysts say a big shock lies ahead for economies that rely heavily on remittances, including India and the Philippines.

FT Digital Dialogue: the Global Economic Emergency Tune in on Wednesday at 4pm UK time for our first live panel discussion on the global economic emergency featuring Chris Giles, our Economics Editor, and Martin Wolf, Chief Economics Commentator, along with guests Lord Adair Turner, former chair of the Financial Services Authority, and Rain Newton-Smith of the CBI. The one-hour session, the first of our Digital Dialogues, will include polling and an audience Q&A. You can register for free here.

Readers respond

“Pamparius” comments on our ventilators story:

“Designing a ventilator from scratch and mass-producing it within weeks in factories with zero experience in manufacturing medical equipment sounds like a recipe for disaster. It’s also a waste of resources. Support existing ventilator makers in scaling up their output. The only way for rational thinkers. Nationalistic ideologists come to another conclusion, of course.”

The essentials

John Burn-Murdoch, our senior data-visualisation journalist, explains the workings behind our trajectory tracking charts (video). See also: Camilla Hodgson on the mystery of the true coronavirus death rate.

Bookmark this: You can find the latest global data and charts on the spread of the virus and its trajectory from John and our team here.

Read our explainer on how UK companies can access bailout funds

Andrew Hill and Emma Jacobs from our Work and Careers team held a live discussion on the great working from home experiment. What glimpses are emerging of the future world of work? 

That future world would also benefit from more of the plain speaking demonstrated by a handful of leaders during the crisis — such as New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern — says columnist Pilita Clark. “The coronavirus age is no time for bullshit,” she writes.

Final thought

The post-apocalyptic world envisioned by William Gibson is already here, writes John Thornhill, FT Innovation Editor, in an interview with the cult sci-fi writer. Covid-19 is accelerating the move from physical to digital world. “We may be the last generation to recognise any distinction between online and offline,” says Gibson.

Get in touch

How is your workplace dealing with the coronavirus? Please tell us what your company is doing by emailing covid@ft.com. We may publish your contribution in an upcoming newsletter. Thanks


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