Factories that crank out cars and trucks looking into making much-needed ventilators. Distilleries intended for whiskey and rum to instead turn out hand sanitizers and disinfectants. And an electronics maker that builds display screens repurposed for surgical masks.
All are answering the call of duty amid a pandemic that has so far claimed more than 11,000 lives and sickened 260,000 people globally.
But redirecting plants to make completely different products will take a long time and a huge effort — possibly too long for some companies to help with medical gear shortages that are becoming more acute every day.
"When you are repurposing a factory, it really depends on how similar the new product is to the existing products in your product line," said Kaitlin Wowak, a professor at the University of Notre Dame who focuses on industrial supply chains. "It's going to be a substantial pivot to start producing an entirely different item."
On Friday, President Donald Trump said he invoked the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, which allows the government to marshal the private sector to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. But he did not give examples as to how he was using it.
At a news conference Saturday, Trump singled out GM and Ford as among the many businesses that have asked to start making medical gear like ventilators, the need for which he said has grown into the hundreds of thousands.
"Nobody's ever heard of a thing like that. With that being said, General Motors, Ford, so many companies — I had three calls yesterday directly, without having to institute like `You will do this' — these companies are making them right now," Trump said.
Neither automaker, however, is building ventilators at present. GM announced on Friday that it is working with ventilator maker Ventec Life Systems to ramp up production. The automaker said it would help with logistics, purchasing and manufacturing, but stopped short of saying it would make ventilators in its own factories, which have been idled for two weeks after workers who'd been fearful of contagion put pressure on the company.
Crosstown rival Ford, which also suspended factory production along with other automakers with operations in North America, confirmed that it too was in discussions with the Trump administration about helping.
"We're looking at feasibility," Ford spokesman T.R. Reid said. "It may be possible, but it's not you go from Rangers (small pickups) one day to ventilators the next. We're figuring out what is possible now."
Ford and Rolls-Royce PLC also are working with the British government to see if they can switch over their factories.
"We are keen to do whatever we can to help the government and the country at this time and will look to provide any practical help we can," Rolls-Royce said in a statement.
Although the government can steer factories to overcome shortages, makers of heavy goods such as cars and trucks can't just flip a switch and produce something else.
It would be difficult to get ventilator or even surgical mask designs, line up parts supplies and train workers to make them in a short period, said Jorge Alvarado, a professor in the Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution Department at Texas A&M University. And auto plants generally aren't clean enough to make medical equipment.
Companies also would have to find mask or ventilator manufacturers willing to share knowledge, expertise and even factory workers to transfer production elsewhere, Alvarado said.
During World War II, automakers were more easily able to shift to making tanks and planes because they are close relatives to cars and trucks, Alvarado said. Auto factory equipment such as robots and assembly lines aren't really compatible with smaller items such as ventilators, he said.
Other industries may be better equipped to help with the virus. Rum producer Bacardi, for example, said its distillery in Puerto Rico has shifted to making ethanol needed to produce hand sanitizer. Small U.S. distilleries such as Eight Oaks Farm in Pennsylvania are converting operations to make alcohol-based disinfectant. It will charge whatever people want to donate.
Germany-based Beiersdorf, known for skin care products such as the Nivea and Coppertone brands, and Luxury giant LVMH are preparing to make medical disinfectants in Europe for hospitals, police and firefighters. French cosmetics giant L'Oreal says it is making sanitizer gel.
Electronics maker Sharp Corp. said it will start making surgical masks using a plant in central Japan that usually makes displays. And Michigan-based office furniture company Steelcase is exploring ways to use its factories to make health care items, studying whether it can make masks and protective equipment or partitions for hospitals.
"This is an extraordinary crisis that necessitates extraordinary measures and actions from both the public and private sectors," the company said in a statement.
Even though it may take time and a monumental effort to switch factories to medical products, that may have to be done if the virus outbreak lasts for several months or longer, said Notre Dame's Wowak.
"I think given the circumstance and how critical it is for these surgical masks, ventilators and gloves, I think there is going to be a lot of organizations, government, private, trying to increase (factory) capacity," she said. "Maybe the government recognizes how critical of an issue this is."
Major supermarkets plan to create tens of thousands of extra jobs across Britain to help keep shops open and stocked during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
As of 9a.m. (0900GMT) on Saturday, 72,818 people have been tested in Britain, of which 67,800 were confirmed negative and 5,018 were confirmed positive. 233 patients in the country who tested positive for the virus have died.
Aldi, Asda and Lidl have announced they will recruit 16,500 workers -- 4,000 of the roles permanent -- to cope with the surging demand for groceries, the British media reported.
Supermarket Lidl said it wants to recruit 2,500 workers on a four-week contract to start immediately across the country to help restock shelves and assist existing staff members.
Aldi said it needs 9,000 new workers, whilst announcing further restrictions on products, including nappies and toilet rolls reduced to two items per customer.
The moves came after Tesco, the biggest supermarket chain in Britain, announced plans to hire 20,000 new store workers to deal with an "unprecedented" demand from shoppers amid the pandemic.
Morrisons also plans to create 3,500 new jobs and expand its home delivery operation during the crisis.
In addition to around 2,500 order pickers and drivers to support home delivery, the grocer will be recruiting around 1,000 more people to work in its distribution centers, it said earlier this week.
Pubs, bars, theatres and restaurants have been closed across the country in the British government's latest bid to stem the coronavirus spread.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday ordered the shut down of the hospitality and entertainment sectors amid fears the British National Health Service (NHS) will be overwhelmed unless the COVID-19 outbreak is contained.
The rapid worldwide spread of the coronavirus since it was first revealed in China less than three months ago has dealt an unparalleled shock to the global economy.
Following are weekend business developments related to the outbreak as governments attempt to stabilize their economies, companies navigate through an altered landscape, and millions of people face job losses and interrupted goods and services.
WORKER RESCUE: Airlines and retailers are pleading for aid as Congress and the White House continue to negotiate a rescue package. In a letter to U.S. House and Senate leaders Saturday, the CEOs of 10 airlines and cargo companies said they will be forced to take "draconian measures," including laying off many of their 750,000 workers, if Congress doesn't immediately approve at least $29 billion in payroll grants. The companies promised not to reduce employment through Aug. 31 if those grants are approved. Airlines are seeking a total of $58 billion in loans and direct grants; so far, the White House and Senate Republicans have offered up to $50 billion in loans but no grants. Airlines — cognizant of criticism — also promised to limit executive compensation and eliminate stock buybacks and dividends for a time if they are granted at least $29 billion in loans.
Also Saturday, the National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group, sent a letter to the White House stating that retailers and their vendors are losing tens of billions of dollars every week due to the virus outbreak.
"As the nation's largest private sector employer, supporting 52 million working Americans, retailers are committed to sustaining their workforces even if stores must close temporarily," the letter said. The letter, which was also signed by 89 retail trade groups, urged policymakers to consider proposals that would provide sufficient liquidity for small, medium and large-scale businesses to remain viable until the end of the crisis.
RETAIL IS CURBED: Best Buy, the nation's largest consumer electronics chain, is moving to curbside pickup service only as it tries to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Earlier this week, Best Buy had started to limit the number of people in its stores to only 10 to 15 at a time.
"We are seeing a surge in demand across the country for products that people need to work or learn from home, as well as those products that allow people to refrigerate or freeze food," said Best Buy's CEO Corie Barry in a statement. "As we meet the demand for these necessities, we are adjusting how we operate in many ways to improve safety."
Best Buy has around 1,000 stores in the U.S.
Best Buy customers can still order online or on its app and have their products shipped directly to their homes. If a customer is unable to order online, Best Buy will send an employee into the store to retrieve an item.
The Minneapolis-based chain is joining thousands of other retailers not viewed as essential in temporarily closing its stores. Like many others, it's also trying to preserve its business. It's withdrawing its annual earnings guidance and is drawing the full amount of its $1.25 billion revolving credit line to shore up cash. Best Buy has also suspended all share repurchases, similar to such retailers as Kohl's and Nordstrom.
(This item has been corrected to note that Best Buy is shifting to curbisde pickup service, not curbside delivery).
EMPLOYEE BONUSES: Grocery chain Kroger Co. joins a growing list of retail and restaurant chains offering special bonuses or sweetening benefits to workers. The grocery chain said that full-time hourly workers will receive a one-time special bonus of $300, while part-time workers will receive $150. Kroger has approximately 453,000 full- and part-time workers. The bonuses will be paid to workers who were hired on or before March 1. Kroger is also expanding its emergency leave guidelines to include paid time off for those workers in self-isolation or who have symptoms as verified by an accredited health care professional.
Target Corp. said Friday it will give a $2 an hour wage increase to its 300,000-plus workers who have been scrambling to help customers. The pay bump will be effective at least through May 2. It's also begun offering workers who are pregnant, 65 years old or older, or who have underlying health risks, access to paid leave for up to 30 days. Amazon and Walmart are also offering extra incentives such as cash bonuses or a temporary wage bump as they try to manage the crush of customers while simultaneously looking to keep their workers happy.
Starbucks said it will pay its workers for the next 30 days, whether they come to work or stay home. The coffee chain also said it is temporarily closing access to its stores across the U.S., and reducing services to drive-thru and delivery only.
GOOGLE IT: Google has launched a new website and enhanced its search options for people seeking information about the new coronavirus, but the effort falls short of a plan initially announced by President Donald Trump. As of Saturday, when U.S. users typed in "coronavirus" or related terms, information about symptoms and links to state health departments and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention popped up on the right. Google also unveiled a new website, http://www.google.com/covid19/, that links users to data, safety videos and relief efforts. Google said the website will soon be available in more languages and countries.
A little more than a week ago, Trump said Google would facilitate a website that would guide users through a series of questions to determine whether they should be screened for the virus. Then it would direct them to a local testing location.
In fact, a Google sibling company that focuses on health care confirmed it was working on such a site, but so far it is only available in certain counties in the San Francisco area.
Google also announced Friday that it would no longer hold its annual developer conference this year. The Google I/O conference was initially moved online, but the company said it has been canceled to comply with California's "shelter in place" directives.
Top-level negotiations between Congress and the White House pushed into the night Saturday on a ballooning $1 trillion-plus economic rescue package, as President Donald Trump urged a deal to steady a nation shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic.
With a population on edge and financial markets teetering, all sides indicated a deal is within reach. At issue is how best to keep paychecks flowing for millions of workers abruptly sidelined by the crisis.
Talks also narrowed on a so-called Marshall Plan for hospitals as well as industry loans to airlines and others all but grounded by the virus outbreak and national shutdown. The post-World War II Marshall Plan helped to rebuild Western Europe.
Officials put the price tag at nearly $1.4 trillion and said that with other measures from the Federal Reserve it could pump $2 trillion into the U.S. economy.
"Everybody's working hard and they want to get to a solution that's the right solution, I think we're very close," Trump said at Saturday's briefing, striking a confident tone about the nation's ability to defeat the pandemic soon.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate convened the rare weekend session as negotiators raced to draft the package. No announcement was expected until at least Sunday. The Senate's goal is to hold an initial vote Sunday and win Senate passage on Monday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that negotiators are making "important progress," but urged talks to wrap up.
"It's time to come together," he said.
The urgency to act is mounting, as jobless claims skyrocket, businesses shutter and the financial markets are set to re-open Monday eager for signs that Washington can soften the blow of the healthcare crisis and what experts say is a looming recession.
Trump has largely stayed out of the details, but said Saturday that he would be lobbying the lead negotiators.
On one topic, Trump appears to be agreeing with Democrats as Washington tries to steer clear of the politically toxic bailouts from the last economic crises.
Trump expressed a clear distaste for any industry, including the airlines, that would use federal assistance to buy back its own stock in an effort to increase profits. Banning stock buy-backs is one of Democrats' top business priorities in the emerging package.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other top White House officials were on Capitol Hill for a second day of nonstop negotiations. But no announcement was expected.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been in talks with Mnuchin, was returning to Washington on Saturday.
Negotiations are focused on providing direct relief to Americans, with one-time checks of $1,200, as well as ongoing payroll support and enhanced unemployment benefits for the newly out of work.
Talks are also focused on loans to airlines and other industries blindsided by the crisis, as well as possible aid to the states and billions for hospitals and healthcare providers on the front lines of the outbreak.
The emerging package builds on a GOP proposal but Democrats push for add-ons, including food security aid, small business loans and other measures for workers.
"We're making very good progress," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said late Saturday. "We're going to continue working though the night."
On Saturday, Trump opened the daily virus briefing with a roll call of his administration's accomplishments, a week-in-review meant to rebut criticism that the White House was moving too slowly to combat the crisis.
The president pushed back against accusations that he was sluggish to act for fear of upsetting China, though he told aides last month that he had not wanted to alienate Beijing by criticizing its secretive handling of the initial outbreak.
Trump did not lose his temper, as he did the day before. But mixed, vague messaging still ruled the briefing.
For example, as hospitals across the nation report a dire shortage of supplies to care for an expected surge of patients, Vice President Mike Pence said the government was completing a half-billion-dollar order for masks. But none of the government officials at the briefing could suggest when the masks would reach medical facilities, a moment of confusion that caused Trump to grow visibly frustrated.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, tried not to over-promise the effectiveness or speed of medication that could possibly be used to treat the virus. After Trump had exited the briefing room, Fauci answered a question about Trump's tweet about the drugs by saying, "I'm not totally sure what the president was referring to."
Trump also sowed confusion about his use of the Defense Production Act to force American businesses to manufacture needed medical supplies, saying that while he invoked the act this week, he has not yet needed to utilize it to compel businesses to mobilize, despite the pronounced supply shortage.
Pence announced that, out of an abundance of caution, he and his wife, Karen, would be tested for the virus after a member of the vice president's staff had tested positive. The result for both was negative, Pence press secretary Katie Miller tweeted Saturday night.
Pence had said the staffer, who did not have close contact with either the president or vice president, was doing well.
The emerging rescue plan from Congress would be a striking intervention at enormous cost being crafted with a speed unseen since the 2008-09 financial crisis and recession.
It builds on Trump's request for Congress to "go big."
A central element is now $350 billion for small businesses to keep making payroll. Companies with 500 or fewer employees could tap up to $10 million in forgivable small business loans to keep paychecks flowing.
That's on top of a proposal for one-time checks to all Americans, $1,200 per individual, $2,400 for couples, cut off at higher incomes.
Democrats are pushing for increased eligibility for unemployment insurance for those who jobs are simply disappearing.
For industry, the initial GOP plan called for $208 billion in loans to airlines and other industries, which would have to be repaid.
Negotiators are still hammering out whether there will be money to the states, whose governors have requested billions, as well as how much will be going to hospitals and healthcare providers.
Trump acknowledged the outbreak was hurting his family's business of hotels and country clubs but said he did not know whether his business would be one of the many to seek government assistance.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
Less than three months ago came the first reports of cases of pneumonia related to a virus first detected in Wuhan, China. The outbreak of the virus that causes COVID-19 has caused unprecedented disruptions that have brought an unparalleled shock to the global economy.
Following are developments Friday related to the outbreak, efforts by governments to stabilize their economies, companies that must navigate through an altered landscape, and the millions of people affected.
GROUNDED: The lowest number of passengers ever recorded at U.S. airports is being reported by the Transportation Security Administration. Nearly 624,000 people passed through its outbound checkpoints on Thursday, the TSA said. That compares with 2.4 million on the same day a year earlier. It's the lowest number of outbound passengers ever recorded by an agency created in November 2001 in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The CEO and labor leaders at American Airlines wrote to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and congressional leaders Friday imploring them to quickly approve aid for airlines or else workers will lose their jobs. The company says it will accept "appropriate conditions" on government aid.
Frankfurt airport operator Fraport AG has put 18,000 of its 22,000 employees on shortened schedules, saying that "traffic has come almost to a halt."
An air traffic control supervisor in Indianapolis tested positive, the Federal Aviation Administration reported. It's the third FAA facility affected by COVID-19. Earlier this week, airport towers in Chicago and Las Vegas closed temporarily, leading to hundreds of canceled and delayed flights.
American Airlines is initiating cargo-only flights between the US and Europe. FedEx and UPS were expecting to absorb a greater share of cargo typically carried by commercial airlines, which have severely cut capacity.
Air Canada is laying off more than 5,000 flight attendants, about 60% of that staff, according to a union official, as the country's largest airline grounds its planes.
Ethiopian Airlines, Africa's largest carrier, canceled flights to 30 countries on Friday and CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said it has lost $190 million due to disruptions related to the coronavirus.
HELP NEEDED: With outbreak-related layoffs expected to surge, at least two major retailers are hiring in a big way. Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, said late Thursday that it plans to hire 150,000 U.S. hourly workers for its stores and distribution centers through the end of May as online orders surge with households stocking up. The jobs are temporary, but many will become permanent, said spokesman Dan Bartlett. He said that the company is reaching out to industry groups in the restaurant and hospitality industry, both of which are getting slammed by lockdowns and travel bans. Amazon this week said it would hire 100,000 people across the U.S. to keep up with a crush of orders hires.
Target Corp. said Friday it will give a $2 an hour wage increase to its 300,000-plus workers who have been scrambling to help customers. The pay bump will be effective at least through May 2. It's also begun offering workers who are pregnant, 65 years old or older, or who have underlying health risks, access to paid leave for up to 30 days. Target joins Amazon and Walmart which are offering extra incentives like cash bonuses or a temporary wage bump as they try to manage the crush of customers while simultaneously looking to keep their workers happy.
Starbucks said it will pay its workers for the next 30 days, whether they come to work or stay home. The coffee chain also said it is temporarily closing access to its stores across the U.S., and reducing services to drive thru and delivery only.
NOT HIRING: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government has received 500,000 applications for employment insurance compared to just 27,000 for the same week last year. Trudeau says they are receiving a historic number of calls from concerned Canadians amid the pandemic. This week, the U.S. reported the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits surged by 70,000 to the highest level in more than two years.
CLOSE TO HOME: The chairman and CEO of Marlboro-maker Altria Group has contracted COVID-19. The company said in a regulatory filing that Howard Willard is on medical leave. Chief Financial Officer William Gifford, Jr. will lead the company in Willard's absence. The company is also suspending operations at its plant in Richmond, Virginia, for two weeks after two employees contracted the COVID-19 virus. Some domestic operations at its John Middleton Co. subsidiary will also be suspended due to supply chain issues. The tobacco giant said employees will continue to receive regular pay during the two-week shutdown.
NBC News reported Friday that an employee who worked at the company's 30 Rockefeller Plaza headquarters in New York has died from COVID-19. According to his wife, Larry Edgeworth had other health issues before contracting the coronavirus. Edgeworth died Thursday.
FIREWALL: Companies across almost every sector are raising cash to ride out the outbreak.
Kohl's has fully drawn its $1 billion unsecured credit facility. The department store chain, based in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, is slashing inventory and expenses. Kohl's Corp. has closed its 1,100 stores for at least the rest of the month. It and many other major chains are temporarily closing stores to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
AT&T canceled a $4 billion accelerated stock buyback program scheduled for the second quarter.
FUTURE UNKNOWN: Coca-Cola Co. no longer expects to reach previously set financial goals for the year. Coke said in a regulatory filing that restaurant closures, suspended NHL, NBA and MLB seasons, reduced travel, social distancing, and more people working from home is straining operations.
Kohl's withdrew its full-year and first-quarter forecasts. Several other chains like Nordstrom and Abercrombie & Fitch have also withdrawn their guidance given so much uncertainty.
FACTORIES GO DARK: Thousands of businesses have ordered employees to work remotely. It's obviously not an option for a number of sectors and the impact on heavy industry has been immense. All major U.S. automakers, including Tesla, have shut down their factories.
Mercedes-Benz and BMW are the latest automakers to announce that they're pausing production due to the coronavirus threat, bringing almost the entire U.S. auto industry to a halt. Mercedes said Friday its auto plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and a van factory in Charleston, South Carolina, will start to wind down production Monday, likely for two weeks. BMW also said Friday that it will shut down its huge manufacturing complex near Spartanburg, South Carolina, starting April 3. The closure will run through April 19. Earlier this week Honda, General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, Subaru, Volkswagen, Hyundai-Kia and Tesla said they would suspend production.
Jaguar Land Rover is suspending production at its U.K. plants but its manufacturing plants in Brazil and India continue operating. The company's joint venture plant in China reopened around a month ago. Other firms including BMW, Honda and Toyota have already halted production in the U.K.
Volvo Cars said Friday that its Swedish and U.S. plants will close on Thursday and will remain closed until mid-April. Office employees are being ordered to work remotely with reduced hours. The company said it reopened four manufacturing plants in China earlier this month after an extended closure.
STREAMING LOGJAM: YouTube is reducing its streaming quality in Europe as more users self-isolate at home. The company, owned by Google, said Friday it would "temporarily default all traffic in the U.K. and the EU to Standard Definition," instead of high definition. The measure will be in place for 30 days and users will still be able to manually adjust their video quality.
YouTube follows Netflix, which said Thursday that it expects the video bit rate reduction to cut its European traffic by a quarter.
The companies are responding to a call by the European Union's internal market commission, which urged streaming services and network operators to help prevent network congestion as more people use their home internet connection to work or learn remotely or for entertainment.
iHOARDING: Apple is allowing people to buy only two iPhones online. It appears to be attempting to prevent the large purchase and resale of its technology at higher prices. Apple is facing a potential demand decline and supply chain issues due to the virus pandemic spreading across the globe. It closed all retail stores outside of China to help fight the spread. Apple did not return a request for comment Friday. Apple announced a new iPad Pro and MacBook Air on Wednesday. It made no mention of new iPhones during the announcement.