MUMBAI: Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla has said he will return to India from London in a few days.
Poonawalla made the announcement soon after he spoke out about the pressures he was under over the production of COVID-19 vaccines to meet the ever-increasing demand in India as the country battles through a devastating second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Had an excellent meeting with all our partners & stakeholders in the U.K. Meanwhile, pleased to state that COVISHIELD’s production is in full swing in Pune. I look forward to reviewing operations upon my return in a few days,” Poonawalla said in a midnight tweet.
In his first comments since he was provided with ‘Y’ category security by the Indian government earlier this week, Poonawalla had told ‘The Times’ in an interview about receiving aggressive calls from some of the most powerful people in India, demanding supplies of Covishield — the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that the Serum Institute is producing in India.
That pressure was largely behind his decision to fly into London to be with his wife and children, the 40-year-old entrepreneur had said in the interview on Saturday.
“I’m staying here (London) for an extended time because I don’t want to go back to that situation. Everything falls on my shoulders but I can’t do it alone. I don’t want to be in a situation where you are just trying to do your job, and just because you can’t supply the needs of X, Y or Z you really don’t want to guess what they are going to do,” Poonawalla had told the newspaper.
According to Indian government officials, the protection to Poonawalla has been given in view of “potential threats” to him.
Armed commandos of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) will be with him every time he travels to any part of the country, they said and added that the ‘Y’ security cover will entail a posse of about 4-5 armed commandos.
“The level of expectation and aggression is really unprecedented. It’s overwhelming. Everyone feels they should get the vaccine. They can’t understand why anyone else should get it before them,” Poonawalla had said.
The businessman had indicated in the interview that his move to London is also linked to business plans to expand vaccine manufacturing to countries outside India, which may include the likes of the UK.
“There’s going to be an announcement in the next few days,” he had said when asked about Britain as one of the production bases outside India.
According to the newspaper, by the time the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was approved in January this year, the Serum Institute of India (SII) had increased its annual production capacity from 1.5 to 2.5 billion doses at a cost of USD 800 million, and stockpiled 50 million doses of Covishield.
The company began exporting to 68 countries, including Britain, as India seemed to have been over the worse, until the situation worsened in recent weeks.
“We’re really grasping for all the help we can get,” Poonawalla had said in the ‘Times’ interview. “I don’t think even God could have forecast it was going to get this bad,” he had said.
India’s daily coronavirus tally crossed the grim milestone of four lakh, while the death toll rose to 2,11,853 with 3,523 fresh fatalities, according to date updated by the Union Health Ministry on Saturday.
The infection tally rose to 1,91,64,969 with 4,01,993 new cases, while the active cases crossed the 32-lakh mark, the data updated at 8 am on Saturday showed.
Registering a steady increase, the active cases stood at 32,68,710, accounting for 17.06 per cent of the total infections, while the national COVID-19 recovery rate further dropped to 81.84 per cent.