Israeli defence firms began repurposing its manufacturing teams on Wednesday to build ventilators instead, as the global rush for machines amid the coronavirus pandemic forced Jerusalem to “build them ourselves”.
Elbit Systems – better known for its work with drones, missiles and artillery – aims to produce 300 per week to increase the country’s existing stock of 3,500 ventilators, as officials said they want 7,000 as demand soars.
The new coronavirus enters cells typically found in the back of the nose and the back of the throat before using their host cells to replicate. They then travel down to the lungs and can ultimately lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome by damaging the air sacks and causing leakage into areas of the lung where there should be air.
Elbit is the second Israeli defence firm to say it will produce ventilators after Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) last month said it would partner a medical devices company to do likewise.
The head of Israel’s Health Ministry procurement division Orly Weinstein said this week that the state had struggled to purchase ventilators just like everyone else, adding that the lesson was to “manufacture it yourself”.
International medical experts have warned that a ventilator shortage in Gaza could be particularly devastating, given that the Strip has only one machine for every 16,000 residents. In Israel and the US, by contrast, there are machines for every 2,000 people.
Elbit’s announcement was the latest evidence that Israel’s defence firms are deploying their resources in the fight against the pandemic, having already gone beyond ventilation.
Last week the firm said it had partnered Rambam Hospital to devise a medical management and control system through medics’ mobile phones, bypassing an out-dated system using pagers, walkie-talkies and PA announcements. Officials said it was based on cutting edge “military command and control technology”.