By Naomi Tajitsu
TOKYO (Reuters) – Honda Motor Co <7267.T> said it has remodeled 50 of its minivans to transport COVID-19 patients to hospitals and quarantine facilities in Japan, sealing off the rear section of the vehicles to keep drivers safe from infection.
The Japanese automaker has placed an airtight divide between the driver and the rear passenger areas of the vans and tweaked their air conditioning systems to enable fresh air to enter through the front near the base of the windshield wipers, pass through to the rear passenger area through vents and exit through the back.
The company said that the one-way ventilation system installed in its Odyssey and Step WGN minivan models ensures that air from the rear section does not enter the driver’s space, reducing the risk of infection.
The company began lending these cars to health authorities in Tokyo, and as of Tuesday, two vehicles had been delivered, a company spokesman said. Eventually, it plans to also supply the vehicles to nearby Saitama prefecture, he added.
Honda will consider making more available depending on demand, adding that they were not ambulances.
Japan had 8,885 cases of infections of the coronavirus as of Wednesday morning, excluding those from a cruise ship quarantined in February, with 174 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.
Toyota Motor Corp <7301.T> has also said it is considering ways to equip its JPN Taxi models used by taxi operators in the country to transport infected patients.
Both companies have also set up production lines at their plants at home and abroad to manufacture face shields, masks and other medical equipment, much like other carmakers around the world.
Last week, Japan’s powerful automaking lobby said it will try to avoid suspending operations during the coronavirus pandemic, and that the industry was considering financial support for struggling firms.
(Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Josephine Mason and Sayantani Ghosh)