Cyrus Poonawalla, chairman of the Poonawalla Group which includes vaccine-maker Serum Institute of India, has joined his son Adar Poonawalla and his family in London a few days ago but rejected suggestions that he had “left” the country.
Speaking to The Sunday Express from London, Cyrus Poonawalla said he was on a routine “summer vacation”, something that he takes every year in May. Any suggestion that he, or his son, had “left” the country in this time of crisis was “false and malicious”, he said.
“From the time I can recollect, I have been out of India in the month of May. One wants to take a summer vacation, and this time it is nothing new,” he said.
Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India which has supplied almost 90 per cent of the Covid vaccines in India so far, has been in London for over a month. In interviews, he had complained of receiving “threats” from politicians and “powerful men” demanding quick delivery of the Covishield vaccine his firm has been producing. He also complained of being “vilified and blamed” in India.
India is struggling to meet the demand for vaccines and this is largely being blamed on the Government’s failure to secure stocks for domestic use and the failure of Serum Institute to ramp up production in time.
In a statement from London on May 3, Adar Poonawalla had said that it was not possible to ramp up vaccine production “overnight”. He had also said that his company was making “every effort” to increase capacity and would “work even harder” to achieve that.
However, his departure for the UK, just before India was red-flagged for travel, along with his comments about receiving threats raised questions over his departure. On May 1, Adar Poonawalla suggested in a tweet that his stay in London was temporary and that he was planning to return to India “in a few days”.
Now his father has joined the family in London. Adar Poonawalla did not respond to emails or text messages sent by The Indian Express. His father Cyrus Poonawalla insisted that the family’s visit to London was “routine”.
“I used to get Adar, when he was a child, to the UK. His children are now studying abroad, and it is a routine visit that he makes often to the country,” Cyrus said.
“As far as we are concerned, it is an annual holiday time. In fact, almost every year, I am in England attending the Derby in the first week of June,” he said.
The senior Poonawalla also said that the company was looking to start some new operations in Europe. “Our production (of Covid19) vaccines is underway in India, and we are looking at some preliminary engagements with manufacturing units in Europe. It is too early to disclose further details,” he said.
Sources close to the family in Pune said Serum Institute was looking at some sites in Ukraine, apart from UK, to build new facilities to ramp up production.