No loss of life after ‘massive’ blaze at site of world’s largest vaccine maker

A “massive” fire broke out on Thursday in an under-construction building at the site of the Serum Institute of India (SII), known as the world’s largest vaccine maker, but there has been no loss of life and production will not be affected, according to the chief executive officer of the company and local media reports.

“We are trying to rescue one or two people, that’s our only priority now. We will assess the situation later on the damage on all other counts,” CEO of SII, Adar Poonawalla, told NDTV news channel.

According to several local media reports, the fire at Manjari — a cluster of new buildings being built to enhance SII’s manufacturing capability — will not affect the ongoing production of the Covid-19 vaccines being manufactured at a facility that is “within a few minutes’ drive” of the complex.

The fire broke out at 2:45 pm local time in two of the floors of the building, according to news agency PTI.

“As per the primary information, three people have been evacuated,” PTI quoted Deputy Commissioner of Police, Namrata Patil, as saying.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s office said he is in touch with the Pune Municipal Commissioner and is receiving updates about the situation at SII.

“CM Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray is in touch with the Pune Municipal Commissioner and is taking complete on-ground updates. He has directed the state machinery to coordinate and ensure that the situation is under control,” the CMO said in a tweet.

Mr Poonawalla tweeted: “Thank you, everyone, for your concern and prayers. So far the most important thing is that there have been no lives lost or major injuries due to the fire, despite a few floors being destroyed.”

It is not yet clear how the fire started, but television visuals of the buildings showed thick smoke billowing out, even as news agency ANI reported that at least 10 fire engines have been rushed to the spot and one team of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) moved to SII to help with evacuation and rescue.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, branded as “Covishield” in India, is being locally produced by SII. On Wednesday, India, which produces 60 per cent of the world’s vaccines, began supplying coronavirus jabs to its neighbouring countries, less than a week after it started its own vaccination drive — said to be the largest in the world.

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