Massive Fire At SII Claims Five Lives – State Orders Probe

– Vaccines And Production Plants Safe –

During the afternoon hours of 21st January, 2021, a massive fire broke on the fifth floor of an under-construction building (Terminal 1 Gate), at the Serum Institute of India (SII), in Pune’s Manjari area, claiming the lives of five labourers. The complex Manjari is reportedly a few minutes’ drive from the facility where the coronavirus vaccines are produced and is believed to be part of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ).

As per sources, four other workers were evacuated from the building when the first blaze, which was apparently caused by an electrical fault, erupted at around 2:00 p.m. A second, comparatively minor blaze, occurred at 7:00 p.m. on the third floor of the same building. Both fires were brought under control, confirmed the fire department authorities. Over 10 fire-tenders from Pune Fire Brigade rushed to the site and were battling the blaze.

The vaccines and the vaccine manufacturing plant were not impacted, fortunately, and are safe. Maharashtra Health Minister, Rajesh Tope assured that the fire had not harmed SII’s ‘Covishield’ vaccine storage, which is sited at a distance from the blaze, in any way.

Shortly after the devastating fire broke out, Deputy CM, Ajit Pawar confirmed that directives have been issued for a detailed probe into the incident, by the Maharashtra State Government, with CM Uddhav Thackeray also taking stock of the situation. “People in the country and abroad have expressed concerns over the incident. I would like to clarify that I have been told that the plant where Covid-19 vaccine is being manufactured is safe. At present, our focus is to douse the fire and minimize the damage caused,” added Pawar.

Taking to Twitter, CEO of SII, Adar Poonawalla, expressed condolences, “We have just received some distressing updates; upon further investigation we have learnt that there has unfortunately been some loss of life at the incident. We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed.”  SII has announced a compensation of Rs. 25 lakhs for the families of each of the labourers who lost their lives working at the under-installation facility.

As per State Health Minister, Rajesh Tope, “Rotavirus plant installation was going on when welding sparks caused the fire due to highly inflammable material present at the spot. It took the local administration three hours to douse the fire completely. They have also recovered five bodies. Police investigation is on and a fire audit of the building will also be conducted.”

In another Tweet, assuring those concerned about the safe-keeping and production of the vaccine, Adar Poonawalla shared, “I would like to reassure all governments and the public that there would be no loss of production due to multiple production buildings that I had kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies.”

The SII is manufacturing the Covid-19 vaccine, Covishield, developed by the Oxford University and AstraZeneca. Covishield is one of the two vaccines against the novel coronavirus that have been granted emergency use approval in the country. Last year, in November, PM Narendra Modi had visited the SII facility in Pune to review the development of the Covid-19 vaccine ahead of its rollout. India launched the world’s largest Covid-19 vaccine rollout on 16th January, 2021, after two vaccines – Covishield and Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin – were cleared by the Indian drug regulator, DCGI. SII is producing around 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine a month at other facilities in the complex, with plans to increase that to as much as 100 million doses soon. The AstraZeneca vaccine has already been approved in India, which has used the shot and another home-grown one to inoculate about 1 million people since its roll-out. The AstraZeneca vaccination has also been shipped to countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, the Maldives and Bhutan.

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