Tokyo — One of the key weapons in the battle to save lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic has been ventilators, which take over breathing for patients in acute respiratory distress. The U.S. has confirmed more than 466,000 coronavirus cases so far, but has only between 100,000 and 160,000 of the artificial breathing machines. Ventilator shortages worldwide are just as dire, and there’s no easy fix. Blue-chip firms like GM and vacuum cleaner maker Dyson have been enlisted in the effort to rapidly manufacture ventilators, while enterprising engineers around the world have come up with some remarkable makeshift options.While “flattening the curve” may help lessen the need for the machines, they are still in incredibly high demand, and in the U.S. and other countries there’s a desperate need not only for ventilators, but for the skilled technicians able to operate them.  Among the firms watching the global pandemic unfold last month was Metran, a small Japanese company based outside Tokyo that dominates the domestic market for neonatal ventilators. The firm also makes veterinary ventilators, and the bosses decided the breathing machines made for cats and dogs offer the most practical alternative to cope with the ventilator crisis. “They can be used on anything from mice to

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