A police officer performs prayers in front of a truck carrying first consignment of Covishield, a coronavirus disease vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, before it leaves from Serum Bio-Pharma Park of Serum Institute of India, for its distribution, in Pune, on January 12, 2021. Image Credit: Reuters


Serum Institute of India (SII) on Thursday announced a compensation of Rs2.5 million (Dh9 million) to the families of the people who died in a fire incident at the company's facility at Manjari, Pune.

"Today is an extremely sorrowful day for all of us at Serum Institute of India. Regrettably, there were losses of lives in the fire that broke out in our under installation facility situated at the Special Economic Zone at Manjri," said Cyrus S. Poonawalla, Chairman and Managing Director, SII.

"We are deeply saddened and offer our condolences to the families of the departed. In this regard, we will be offering compensation of Rs 25 lakhs to each of the families, in addition to the mandated amount as per the norms," SII tweeted.

President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday expressed grief over the demise of five people who lost their lives in the fire incident.

"The loss of lives in a fire accident at the Serum Institute of India in Pune is distressing. My thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved families. I wish speedy recovery of the injured," Kovind tweeted.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also condoled the deaths caused by the fire incident. "Anguished by the loss of lives due to an unfortunate fire at Serum Institute of India. In this sad hour, my thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives. I pray that the injured recover at the earliest," PM Modi tweeted.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also expressed grief over the fire incident. "While it's distressing to learn of the tragic loss of lives in the fire incident at Serum Institute, the news of another fire is extremely worrying. My condolences to the family of the deceased. I request the state govt to provide necessary help to the victims & their families," he tweeted.

Five people died as a fire tore through a building in the world's biggest vaccine manufacturing hub in India Thursday, but the company insisted that the production of drugs to counter the coronavirus pandemic would continue.

Rescue workers discovered five bodies in the under-construction building after the blaze at the Serum Institute of India was brought under control, media reports said, with officials in the western city of Pune confirming the toll.

"Five people have died," city mayor Murlidhar Mohol told reporters.

TV channels showed thick clouds of grey smoke billowing from the sprawling site in Pune, which is responsible for producing millions of doses of the Covishield coronavirus vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

"It is not going to affect production of the COVID-19 vaccine," a Serum Institute source told AFP, adding that the blaze was at a new facility being built on the 100-acre (40-hectare) campus.

A fire official earlier told reporters that "three or four people were inside" when the blaze broke out, but all had been rescued.

"No-one is trapped inside," the official said.

"We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed," the firm's CEO Adar Poonawalla tweeted, without offering further details.

Both police and the company said the cause of the blaze was not immediately known.

The complex where the fire broke out is a few minutes' drive from the facility where coronavirus vaccines are produced, reports said.

Up to nine buildings are under construction at the complex to enhance Serum's manufacturing capability, NDTV reported.

Huge vaccine rollout

Serum Institute - founded in 1966 by Cyrus Poonawalla, Adar's father - is the world's largest vaccine manufacturer by volume, producing 1.5 billion doses a year even before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

It makes vaccines against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, measles, mumps and rubella, which are exported to more than 170 countries.

The company has spent nearly a billion dollars in recent years enlarging and improving the giant Pune campus.

In January, Indian regulators approved two vaccines - Covishield, produced by the Serum Institute, and Covaxin, made by Indian firm Bharat Biotech.

India began one of the world's biggest vaccine rollouts on Saturday, aiming to vaccinate 300 million people by July with both Covishield and Covaxin.

Many other countries are also relying on the Serum Institute to supply them with the vaccine.

India exported its first batch on Wednesday - to Bhutan and the Maldives - followed by two million doses to Bangladesh and a million to Nepal on Thursday.

The country plans to offer 20 million doses to its South Asian neighbours, with Latin America, Africa and Central Asia next in line.

Serum Institute also plans to supply 200 million doses to Covax, a World Health Organisation-backed effort to procure and distribute inoculations to poor countries.

Brazil last weekend was set to send a plane to collect two million doses from Serum but President Jair Bolsonaro said that "political pressure" in India had postponed the flight.

Adar Poonawalla told the Times of India it would supply Brazil in two weeks.