Washington: US President Donald Trump on Friday invoked a wartime law to force “time-wasting” auto giant General Motors to make ventilators to save lives, amid a shortage of the critical medical equipment to deal with the mounting coronavirus cases in America, now the global epicentre.
Trump invoked the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, which allows a president to force companies to make products for national defence.
He said on Friday that “GM was wasting time” on price negotiations and action was needed to save American lives.
The ventilator machines that keep patients breathing are much in demand amid the respiratory illness’ outbreak across the world, which in the most serious cases attacks the lungs.
The US now has over 104,000 cases of the virus, the most in the world. With over 1,700 fatalities, America’s Covid-19 death toll still lags far behind Italy and China.
Trump signed a Presidential Memorandum directing the Secretary of Healt and Human Services to use any and all authority available under the Defense Production Act to require General Motors (GM) to accept, perform, and prioritize federal contracts for ventilators.
“Our negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course,” Trump said.
“GM was wasting time. Today’s action will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives,” Trump said.
“The virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course,” he said.
Earlier he took to Twitter to complain that GM had lowered the number of ventilators they had promised to deliver from 40,000 to 6,000 and had wanted “top dollar”.
He also criticised GM chief executive Mary Barra, saying things were “always a mess” with her at the helm of the Detroit-based auto giant.
On Thursday, Trump told reporters at the White House that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has shipped 6,000 ventilators to the states.
Thousands of ventilators are being required in the treatment of coronavirus patients, the number of which has surged from just 8,000 about 10 days ago to nearly one lakh. It has also resulted in deaths of nearly 1,500 Americans and about 2,500 COVID-19 patients are in critical condition.
Vice President Mike Pence, who is in-charge of America’s efforts to combat the coronavirus, said the White House is working with a number of suppliers to manufacture ventilators, even while they work with state leaders to assess “not just what ventilators are available in their state hospitals, but what ventilators are available in private hospitals across their state”.
“Governors across the country are doing great work evaluating the full supply of tens of thousands of ventilators that are available,” Pence said.
New York, which is the hotspot of coronavirus in the US, needs around 40,000 ventilators as early as possible. New York has more than 45,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and there has been 519 deaths due to the pandemic.
New York itself is reported to have requested 30,000 ventilators, but Trump said during Friday’s briefing that he felt that was a “high” estimate.
Louisiana’s governor said on Friday that New Orleans could run out of ventilators by 2 April.
The Society of Critical Care Medicine has estimated that some 960,000 intensive care patients will require a ventilator at some point during the coronavirus outbreak in America.