Czech hospital bed maker rushes to meet government order

SLANY, Czech Republic (AP) — Some orders are impossible for manufacturers to turn down. A Czech maker of hospital beds received one this month.

Hours before the Czech government announced that the armed forces would be building a field hospital for 500 COVID-19 patients at Prague’s exhibition ground, Prime Minister Andrej Babis approached the Linet company with a request to deliver the hospital beds for the facility, and for elsewhere.

“It’s a very special situation for us,” Linet executive director Tomas Kolar told The Associated Press on Monday.

Hectic negotiations between the company and the government are expected to result in the signing of a deal shortly for a total of 1,620 hospital beds, of which 420 are for intensive care units.

Kolar said such an order would normally take 12-18 months to fulfil. In this case, “it would be one week between the prime minister’s call and the first delivery.”

In this case, time matters.

The local health system has been under pressure and hospitals are filling up with patients. As the number of people currently with the virus surpassed 100,000 in the Czech Republic, over 3,500 of them need hospitalization and almost 600 of those are in intensive care, according to government figures released on Monday.

The number of new cases has tripled in the past two weeks, from a seven-day rolling daily average of 23.81 per 100,000 people on Oct. 4 to 75.74 on Sunday.

The Health Ministry predicted the system could reach its capacity around the end of October.

“The state needs the hospital right now, not sometime in December,” Kolar said.

Under normal circumstances, such an order would not be a problem for a firm that is expected to make 120,000 beds this year, 10,000 more than in 2019 and is considered the top European producer of hospital beds, selling in over 100 countries.

But with the virus putting pressure on health systems across the globe, the company’s order books were full.

Kolar said the only thing to do to meet the government’s request was to delay some other contracts.

“We have been negotiating that with our clients,” he said.

“As a Czech company, we are able to meet the Czech demand,” he said. “In the case of any other state, it would be practically impossible.”

Linet’s biggest markets are in Germany, the United States and other European countries, including Italy, Spain and Britain, all hard-hit by the pandemic.

About 97% of its production is exported. It expects revenues to reach some 325 million euros ($383 million) this year, up from 290 million euros last year.

Czech hospitals have been working recently to increase the number of beds available for COVID-19 patients to some 10,000. The field hospital in Prague is meant to be used as a last resort.

“Hopefully, it won’t happen, Kolar said.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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