(Adds CEO comment, background)
By Anna Ringstrom
STOCKHOLM, March 16 (Reuters) - Swedish medical equipment group Getinge will deliver 500 ventilators to Italy, its chief executive told Reuters on Monday, as a growing number of countries rush to buy the machines to treat people worst hit by the coronavirus outbreak.
As Europe becomes the epicentre of the outbreak, authorities are becoming increasingly concerned about a potential lack of ventilators, which are used to keep people alive if they are struggling to breathe.
Italy, which has been hardest-hit by the coronavirus outbreak, has tendered for 5,000 ventilators and other desperately needed medical equipment.
"Our annual production last year was 10,000 so it's an extremely big tender. We could only bid for 500 ventilators, and we have now received confirmation that we will deliver," Getinge CEO Mattias Perjos said in an interview.
Getinge, whose rivals include Draegerwerk and privately held Hamilton Medical, says it has an around 25% share of the global ventilator market and around 70% of the market for heart-lung machines.
Perjos said demand growth for both was accelerating.
Getinge's ventilator plant in Sweden has raised output substantially from last year's levels in response to the demand jump, going from one shift to nearly two, and would quickly ramp up further were it not for component shortages, Perjos said.
"The bottlenecks in ventilator production are currently in the component inflow," he said, adding that while some suppliers struggle to access materials, others have reached maximum capacity already.
Getinge is trying to place large orders at its suppliers to support them, Perjos added.
It is also considering replacing components that are in short supply. During a meeting with Swedish government officials last week, Getinge had asked that authorities relax rules on the revalidation of medical equipment which is required after component changes, a process that can be lengthy, Perjos said.
Getinge sources from several countries in Asia and Europe.
Perjos said Getinge's heart-lung machine factory in Germany was already operating in three shifts, so increasing capacity there was more of a stretch than at the ventilator plant.
Besides accelerating demand for ventilators and heart-lung machines in Europe and the United States, Getinge is also experiencing increasing interest in its sterilisation and disinfection gear, the company's CEO said. (Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; Editing by Alexander Smith)