US President Donald Trump has ordered General Motors to make ventilators for coronavirus patients after attacking the car giant’s chief executive.
He invoked the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, which allows a president to force companies to make products for national defence.
Mr Trump said that “GM was wasting time” and action was needed to save American lives.
The US now has 104,000 cases of the virus, the most in the world.
With nearly 1,700 fatalities, America’s Covid-19 death toll still lags far behind Italy and China.
Mr Trump had previously said the defence order was not necessary, because companies were voluntarily converting their operations to help fight the spread of coronavirus.
But on Friday he said in a statement: “The virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course.”
Earlier in the day he took to Twitter to complain that GM lowered the number of ventilators they had promised to deliver from 40,000 to 6,000 and had wanted “top dollar”.
He also criticised GM chief executive Mary Barra, saying things are “always a mess” with her at the helm of the Detroit-based auto manufacture.
GM said on Friday it can build at least 10,000 ventilators per month from April.
What’s the background to the row?
GM has been working with a Seattle-based medical device manufacturer, Ventec Life Systems, to build ventilators at the car maker’s plant in Kokomo, Indiana.
GM’s factory in Warren, Michigan, will be used to make surgical masks, the Associated Press reported.
The White House had been due to announce the joint venture between the two companies on Wednesday until Trump administration officials reportedly baulked at the $1bn bill to taxpayers.
During the coronavirus task force briefing on Friday, the president said: “We’re not looking to be ripped off on price.”
Mr Trump also acknowledged he was “extremely unhappy” over the closing of GM’s plant in Lordstown, Ohio.
The car-maker sold the factory last November, axing 1,400 jobs in a key presidential swing state.
Why the need for ventilators?
The medical machines that keep patients breathing are much in demand amid the respiratory illness’ outbreak, which in the most serious cases attacks the lungs.
Louisiana’s governor said on Friday that New Orleans could run out of ventilators by 2 April.
The Society of Critical Care Medicine has estimated that 960,000 inte