Europe's companies retool production to fight coronavirus fallout

Firms including Zara, Nivea and Dyson are switching output to make needed equipment

Many firms are switching production, making everything from ventilators to disinfectant and hand sanitiser. Photograph: Chris Helgren/Reuters

Companies across Europe including Zara, Nivea and Dyson are making sweeping changes to their business models in a frantic effort to assist with the response to the coronavirus outbreak or to survive the crisis without going bust.

The engineering firm Meggitt said it was leading a group of firms contributing to a drive to produce tens of thousands of ventilators to treat patients who develop respiratory problems.

Perfume-makers including Givenchy and Christian Dior have switched production to hand sanitisers, as have alcohol giants including Absolut Vodka and Brewdog, while the Spanish fashion retailer Zara is sourcing material to make masks and hospital gowns in the effort to fight coronavirus.

Other companies offering to lend expertise, staff and factory floor space include the automotive firms McLaren and Nissan, Dyson, Airbus, Vauxhall, Jaguar Land Rover, Renishaw and JCB.

As well as ventilators, hand sanitiser and masks are in huge demand, prompting several companies to venture into new territory to help increase supply.

The British Honey Company, which makes honey, gin, rum and other spirits from its base in the Cotswolds, said it would use spare capacity in its distillery in Worminghall, Buckinghamshire, to produce hand sanitiser. Its chief executive, Michael Williams, said: “An alcohol-based sanitiser is vodka or gin at 70% ABV made from denatured alcohol.

“Following approval of our application to HMRC to produce denatured alcohol, our expert distillery team have been working alongside our in-house microbiologist and an Oxford University chemist to develop and manufacture this new product.”

Some gin distillers have volunteered to do the same, while Scotland-based “punk” beer company Brewdog, which also makes spirits, is using its production facilities to make hand sanitiser. Its “Brewgel”, made at its Aberdeen distillery, is to be provided free for those in need, starting next week.

Both Brewdog and the British Honey Company are following in the footsteps of the French luxury goods firm LVMH, which began producing disinfectant gel at its Christian Dior, Guerlain and Givenchy factories for distribution to French hospitals fighting the country’s coronavirus out