(Bloomberg) --

The growing number of patients critically sick with the coronavirus is fueling demand for ventilators to at least ten times of what’s available at hospitals around the world, said China’s top medical device maker.

Shenzhen Mindray Bio-Medical Electronics Co., along with other Chinese ventilator makers, has seen overseas orders surge as countries scramble for more of the machines used in intensive care units. In severe cases, the availability of a ventilator to help a Covid-19 patient breathe can determine if he lives or dies.“The demand is several times the orders we can take, the orders are several times our current capacity, and our capacity now is already several times what it used to be,” said Li Wenmei, the company’s board secretary in an interview with Bloomberg on Wednesday.

As the global death toll from the coronavirus crosses 18,000, doctors from Milan to New York are desperately seeking ventilators. Hospitals which usually have just a few of the machines now face the need for one per critically ill patient. While U.S. President Donald Trump has given the go-ahead to auto-makers like Tesla Inc. to try to manufacture ventilators to make up the shortfall, the complex devices aren’t as easily churned out as other medical supplies like surgical masks or disinfectant.

Overall in the U.S., the Society of Critical Care Medicine estimates that 960,000 patients would need ventilator support due to Covid-19, but the nation only has about 200,000 such machines. In Italy, the country with the most number of fatalities from the pandemic, a severe ventilator shortage has forced doctors to triage patients.

Mindray, which makes as many as 3,000 ventilators a month, is now trying to delay delivery of orders to domestic clients so as to ship products to overseas buyers in more urgent need first, said Li. China’s new cases of coronavirus infections has dwindled and its people are resuming work and normal life, even as the epidemic accelerates globally.

Production of patient monitors, which tracks the vital signs of those in critical condition, have also ramped up nearly threefold since last year, said Li. Mindray now makes 30,000 monitors a month.

Ventilators pump oxygen into the lungs and remove carbon dioxide from the body. Many patients inflicted by the novel coronavirus need the machine because their blood oxygen level drops precipitously -- a condition called hypoxemia -- which can cause organ damage and be potentially life threatening.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.