A major fire at the Serum Institute of India (SII) – the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer – killed at least five people Thursday.
The fire occurred at SII’s Manjari plant in the western Indian city of Pune, located in Maharashtra state. City and state government officials suspect that current construction projects at the plant contributed to the fire:
#BREAKING | Fire breaks out at Pune’s Serum Institute of India; 10 fire tenders deployed
(Video credits: ANI) pic.twitter.com/EXBkafbC2R
— WION (@WIONews) January 21, 2021
At least two fires broke out within separate compartments of the same building on the Serum Institute premises. Firefighters extinguished the first fire before “new blazes” started in the same area hours later, WION reported.
“Five bodies were found [after the first fire],” Pune Mayor Murlidhar Mohol told Asian News International (ANI). The five victims were later identified as workers at the plant.
“The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained but it is being speculated that welding, that was going on at the building, caused the fire,” Mohol said.
The fire was “caused by welding sparks at the construction site at the SII,” Maharashtra state Health Minister M. Rajesh Tope told ANI, adding that “the inflammable material at the site aggravated the fire.”
Emergency services evacuated nine people from the building, according to a Pune police spokesperson.
“All the people that were present inside the facility have been evacuated,” Pune Police Commissioner Amitabh Gupta said Thursday.
Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar said the state government has ordered an official investigation into the fire, which destroyed at least “a few” floors of the vaccine plant, according to Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla.
The Serum Institute of India is currently producing millions of doses of the Chinese coronavirus vaccine “Covishield,” developed by the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
“I would like to reassure all governments & the public that there would be no loss of #COVISHIELD production due to multiple production buildings that I had kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies,” Poonawalla wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also took to Twitter Thursday to express his condolences to the families of the victims.
“Anguished by the loss of lives due to an unfortunate fire at the @SerumInstIndia. In this sad hour, my thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives. I pray that those injured recover at the earliest,” Modi wrote.
India, home to nearly 1.4 billion, launched the world’s largest Chinese coronavirus vaccine drive on January 19. The U.N. said India had vaccinated roughly half a million people within the campaign’s first day.
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