PUNE: At least five persons suffocated to death as a major fire broke out in an under-construction building in a plant of global vaccine giant, the Serum Institute of India (SII), here on Thursday afternoon, shocking the country.
Health Minister Rajesh Tope and Pune Mayor Murlidhar Mohol announced that five persons, including one woman, had perished in the blaze and their bodies were found during the cooling operations. Another four persons were rescued from the blaze which erupted on two upper floors of the SII building which was being readied for a BCG vaccine plant.
Allaying nationwide concerns over the fate of the COVID-19 vaccines being manufactured by the company, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray held a press conference while SII CEO Adar Poonawalla issued a personal statement of reassurance.
"I would like to reassure all governments and the public that there would no loss of Covishield production due to multiple production buildings that I had kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies at SII," Poonawalla said, seeking to quell anxieties among the company's global clientele. After speaking with top officials, Thackeray said that he had reviewed the situation and was informed that the COVID-19 vaccine production was not affected in any manner, and the priority was to bring the blaze under control and save people.
Similarly, Union Minister Information & Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, Health Minister Tope, FDA Minister Rajendra Shingne, and others called up the SII top brass to apprise themselves of the exact scenario. Though sabotage has been ruled out, in view of the national and global concerns, Pawar announced a thorough probe into the incident, while reiterating that the COVIDshield line was unaffected.
The fire, which broke out around 2.15 pm, was brought under control within three hours by a team of firemen and around a dozen fire tenders, while Mayor Mohol, PMC Commissioner Vikram Kumar, Collector Rajesh Deshmukh and other official minutely monitored the situation. Police Commissioner Amitabh Gupta, who rushed to the site said that the affected building was an upcoming SII facility for its BCG vaccines, scheduled to be operational in a month or so.
"The company has informed us that COVID-19 vaccine facility is at least one km away, and there is no cause for worry," Gupta told media persons, as the nation heaved a collective sigh of relief.
As thick clouds of dark-grey smoke billowed out of the nearly-ready Manjari complex, social media went wild with speculation whether even the crucial COVID-19 vaccines had also been snuffed out in the flames, but the clarifications by the SII and authorities scotched all conjectures.
Police and fire brigade officers said that there was some welding work going on in the affected floors 4-5 of the building and a short-circuit is believed to be the tentative cause of the conflagration that sent nationwide panic-waves. (IANS)