Tragedy struck India’s drive to launch the world’s biggest Covid vaccination effort yesterday when a deadly fire broke out at a building under construction at a major vaccine-producing campus in Pune, killing five workers.
The blaze took hold soon after 2pm on the fourth and fifth floors of a building under construction at the expanding Manjri campus of the Serum Institute of India (SII), say reports.
Described as the world’s biggest vaccine producer, fast-growing company SII had been contracted to manufacture a billion doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine in an effort dubbed "Covishield".
"We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed," SII chief executive and owner Adar Poonawalla tweeted.
He said the tragedy would not delay Covishield, tweeting: "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."
SII said it would compensate each family of the workers killed with 2.5 million rupees, approximately $34,266.
The men were contract labourers engaged in electrical work, reports newspaper Pune Mirror.
Two were brothers of worker Sudhanshu Kumar, who narrowly escaped with his life.
He told the Mirror that there were eight or 10 people in the building when the fire started.
"Insulation and welding work was going on in that building. When we learned a fire had broken out, we ran out helter-skelter – some from the stairs and some jumping from the building. Two of my brothers have died," he said.
Image Â©GCR, illustration by Denis Carrier