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A woman wearing a protective face mask walks past a shop, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in London on March 20, 2020. Image Credit: REUTERS

London: Britain said on Friday that engineering companies had come up with an emergency ventilator prototype to treat coronavirus patients that could be approved next week, though one industry source said full production was several weeks away. Also on Friday, Britain asked 65,000 former nurses and doctors to return to work and will deploy final-year medical students and student nurses to fight the coronavirus health crisis, the health ministry said.

Britain, where 145 people with COVID-19 have died so far, has a shortage of ventilators which can save the lives of those who develop complications after contracting the virus. The UK’s existing stock of around 5,000-8,000 ventilators is inadequate.

Given such an acute shortage in a country with a population of 67 million, the government scrambled to ask top engineering companies to retool their production to make ventilators.

“More than half a dozen companies have already made one in prototype, to check with us that we are happy with the quality,” health minister Matt Hancock said.

Hancock said he hoped the new ventilators would be approved for use in hospitals by the end of next week.

“I would be surprised if it was longer than then,” he said.

“We need as many as you can possibly make and we will buy them.” A source familiar with the manufacturing situation told Reuters that the prototype would be available next week with manufacturing to start in 4 weeks time. Other industry sources said that they were ready to act but that they needed more details from government on what was expected from them.

Britain faces a “massive shortage” of ventilators that will be needed to treat critically ill patients suffering from coronavirus, after it failed to invest enough in intensive care equipment, a leading ventilator manufacturer said.

Estimates of the potential death toll in the United Kingdom range from a around 20,000 to over 250,000 or even more. As of March 19, 64,621 people have been tested in the UK, of which 61,352 were confirmed negative and 3,269 were confirmed positive.

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A woman walks past a sign promoting contactless takeaway in pizzeria, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in London on March 20, 2020. Image Credit: REUTERS

Come back

Britain casts its National Health Service, which offers healthcare free at the point of use for everyone from cradle to grave, as one of its greatest national achievements. But many doctors say it should be better funded and managed.

Britain has asked 65,000 former nurses and doctors to return to work, the health ministry said.

“We can’t do it alone, so I am urging all recent former nurses to lend us your expertise and experience during this pandemic, because I have no doubt that you can help to save lives,” said Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council is writing out to more than 50,000 nurses whose registration has lapsed in the last three years. The General Medical Council will write to another 15,500 doctors who have left the register since 2017.

Britain’s health service is freeing up 30,000 beds by postponing non-urgent operations and providing care in the community for those who are fit to be discharged, and finding up to 10,000 in independent and community hospitals, the health service said.

Hancock also said 150 trucks were being sent to 150 hospitals, about half of all those in the country, to provide more protective equipment such as masks and hand sanitiser.

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Year 11 pupils, some with graffiti-covered shirts reading 'Survivor 2020' and 'Class of Corona 2020' react as they leave a secondary school in Odiham, west of London on March 20, 2020, as schools begin to close following the UK government's announcement that they would close due to the coronavirus pandemic. British schools close indefinitely on Friday as part of tougher government measures to stem the coronavirus pandemic, following similar shutdowns in Europe and across the world. Image Credit: AFP

Changing of the Guard postponed

Buckingham Palace says the ceremonial Changing of the Guard has been postponed as a result of the social distancing measures the British government has advised to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, the palace say the decision to pull one of the most striking and popular displays of British pageantry will be “reviewed on an ongoing basis, with a view to restarting when appropriate.”

The display is on many tourist agendas when they come to the capital. It involves a group of soldiers being relieved of their duties by a new batch of soldiers. As well as taking place at Buckingham Palace, it can be seen at the nearby St James’s Palace as well as Windsor Castle.

On Thursday, Queen Elizabeth II left Buckingham Palace to go to Windsor Castle earlier than she intended in response to the virus outbreak.