5 dead in Serum Institute fire; Covishield facility unaffected

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Firefighters try to control a fire that broke out at Serum Institute in Pune on Thursday.

Pune: Five men died after a fire broke out in a five-storeyed under-construction building in the Serum Institute of India’s Manjari premises in Pune on Thursday, police said.

All were construction workers whose bodies were recovered by fire brigade personnel from the fifth floor, police said, adding nine others were evacuated from the spot.

“Covishield vaccine production won’t be hit due to the fire,” Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla said.

The Manjari facility is where the Covishield vaccines used in the nationwide inoculation drive against the pandemic are made. The building where fire broke out is one kilometre from the Covishield vaccine manufacturing unit, sources said.

“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 at @SerumInstIndia,” Poonawalla tweeted.

“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,” Poonawalla added.

Mayor Murlidhar Mohol said fire officials recovered the five bodies during the cooling operation.

Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar said the state government has ordered a probe into the fire.

The fire, which broke out at 2.45 pm on the fourth and fifth floors of the building, was brought under control in two hours, police said. Deputy Commissioner of Police Namrata Patil said that nine people were evacuated from the building. Viral visuals from the site showed smoke billowing out from the Serum Institute facility.

Chief Fire Officer Prashant Ranpise said 15 water tankers were pressed into action and the fire was brought under control around 4.30 pm. “The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained. Furniture, wiring, cabins were gutted. No major machinery or instruments were stored on the floors where the fire broke out,” he said.

“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,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.

Cyrus Poonawalla, SII chairman and managing director said families of each deceased will get a compensation of Rs 25 lakh.

Serum Institute of India Pvt Ltd is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by number of doses produced and sold globally (more than 1.5 billion doses) which includes Polio vaccine as well as Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Hib, BCG, r-Hepatitis B, Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccines, as per the company’s website.