The European Union will struggle to get hold of large numbers of ventilators quickly to treat patients suffering from Covid-19 due to the complexity of the machines and high demand for them, the executive European Commission said on Friday.
The Commission launched a joint procurement procedure on March 17 to buy ventilators on behalf of the bloc's 26 member states, in a bid to cut prices and reduce competition among states seeking the machines.
The Brussels-based Commission said suppliers had been selected and it was sending contracts out to them before member states can begin negotiating specific deliveries.
"Taking into account the difficult situation of the markets and the complexity of products like ventilators, their production and delivery is expected to take time," a Commission spokesman told a news briefing.
The coronavirus pandemic has strained EU unity as member states compete to secure supplies such as masks, testing kits and ventilators.
Germany, Romania, France, Romania, Poland and other states have faced criticism in the bloc for restricting exports of locally-available medical gear and medicines to other member states.
A Polish diplomat said on Friday Warsaw had this week reined in new curbs on exports of its medicines and equipment, though items like masks and disinfectants still needed consent to send abroad.
"Poland's domestic production covers around 30 percent of demand. So we are mostly affected by delays and curbs on exports from places like India or China," the diplomat said.
Just a month before the scramble to procure equipment began, however, EU national governments had told Brussels their healthcare systems were ready and there was no need to order more stocks, documents reviewed by Reuters have shown.