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Five people died in a fire at a Serum Institute of India Pvt. Ltd site near Pune on Thursday, damaging equipment worth hundreds of crores of rupees at India’s top vaccine maker. The cause of the fire was not clear at the time of going to press.

The fire broke out Thursday afternoon at the site in Manjri near Pune where equipment to produce non-covid vaccines was being installed, a person aware of the development said. Serum’s covid vaccine Covishield is produced at another site in Manjri, and there is no impact on its functioning, he said.

“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," Serum Institute chairman and managing director Cyrus S. Poonawalla said on Facebook and Twitter. The company will offer 25 lakh to each of the victim’s families, in addition to the legally mandated amount.

New launches will be hit, and there will be equipment damages of “hundreds of crores" and “more than 1,000 crore in revenue loss over the next one to two years due to the fire", chief executive officer Adar Poonawalla told business news channel CNBC-TV18.

However, in a tweet following the incident, he said, “I would like to reassure all governments and the public that there would be no loss of Covishield production due to multiple production buildings I had kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies at Serum Institute."

The full extent of damage and impact on other vaccines will only be determined in the next few days, the person cited above said.

The damaged site will now have to be rebuilt and new equipment set up. This will hit the launches of products and also lead to significant financial losses, he said. However, it will not affect the launch of Covavax, Serum Institute’s version of US-based Novavax’s promising covid shot.

The fire was extinguished during the day, and search-and-rescue is on, Prashant Ranpise, chief fire officer of Pune Municipal Corporation, said, adding they are probing the cause of the fire.

Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray spoke to Adar Poonawalla on the phone and will inspect the site on Friday. “The CM will leave for Pune at 3pm. Around 3.30pm, they will inspect the Serum plant in Hadapsar," the chief minister’s office said in a note.

Kalpana Pathak from Mumbai contributed to the story.

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