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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 outbreak. The luxury spirits firm Pernod Ricard is taking similar steps in the US through its Absolut Vodka brand.

Nivea has started production of medical-grade disinfectants to support the fight against the pandemic in Europe, the German consumer goods firm said on Thursday, offering to deliver 500 tonnes to medical facilities and public services.

Similarly, the fashion house Zara, owned by the Spanish company Inditex, pledged to use its global network to produce items such as surgical masks and hospital gowns. It said it had already donated 10,000 masks and a further 300,000 were due to be sent by the end of the week.

But while some companies are retooling, or using spare capacity to help limit the spread of the virus or treat sufferers, others face a struggle simply to stay afloat.

On Monday, the UK prime minister advised that people did not visit pubs and restaurants, sending shockwaves through the hospitality sector and prompting warnings that much of the industry simply could not survive a prolonged dearth of customers. On Friday, Boris Johnson announced the closure of all pubs, clubs and restaurants.

The UK’s leading pub chain, Greene King, responded by vowing that if people ccould not come to the pub, they could bring the pub home. The business is inviting customers to take away traditional fare such as steak and kidney pies, fish and chips and bottled beer. The service will start with 50 pubs this week, but Greene King aims to roll the plan out to 500 outlets across the country in the next few weeks.

Its chief executive, Nick Mackenzie, said: “Providing our locals with a pub food takeaway service has been in the planning for a while, but we’ve accelerated it due to the impact coronavirus is having on our local communities.

“Our pubs are at the heart of the local community and we are continuing to look at other ways we can support communities during the current crisis.”

The food takeaway service Deliveroo has already launched a “no contact” service, giving customers who are self-isolating or keeping their distance from other people the option to have meals left on their doorstep. However, major question marks remain over the sick pay that will be available to its drivers if they self-isolate, given their gig economy employment status.

Small businesses and sole traders who do not sell a physical product are turning to the internet to solve their problems. Personal trainers and language teachers have started running classes online, with customers doing star jumps or declining irregular Russian verbs in front of their computers at home.

The end of large gatherings spells disaster for the music industry, but “virtual concerts” are providing an alternative outlet for artists. The listings website Gigs Guide is providing a diary of online gigs by artists around the world.

Other sectors are adapting in ways that might not be to everybody’s taste. The betting firms Betfair and William Hill have intensified campaigns to sign people up to online casino games, as the absence of sporting events kills off the betting markets. William Hill’s US arm has also offered “international soccer action” that turned out to be fixtures from the Belarus Premier League.

One sports betting company has even begun offering punters the chance to bet on the weather, including the maximum temperatures in a variety of US cities.


Coyright: TheGuardian


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