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U.K. plant halts COVID vaccine production as suspicious package forces partial evacuation

COVID vaccine causes tensions in Europe
COVID vaccine causes tensions in Europe 02:20

London — A plant in Wales where doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine are produced and stored was partially evacuated Wednesday as police investigated a suspicious package, the company that owns the facility confirmed. North Wales Police said an "incident" was ongoing at the Wrexham Industrial Estate, about 42 miles south of Liverpool.
  
"The roads are currently closed and we would ask the public to avoid the area until further notice," the force said in a statement. It did not provide details.
 
The BBC reported that a bomb disposal unit has been called to deal with a suspicious package and said there were no reports of injuries. A man who works in a neighboring unit on the industrial site told the BBC that he had heard "a hell of an explosion or a bang."

Winter weather Jan 21st 2021
The Wockhardt pharmaceutical manufacturing facility on Wrexham Industrial Estate in North Wales is seen on January 21, 2021. Joe Giddens/PA Images/Getty

"I went outside, couldn't see anything. I looked the other side and two blokes were on the roof," John Roberts told the BBC. "The next thing the police had blocked off the road and were looking in the bushes."

Wockhardt UK, an arm of the Mumbai-based pharmaceutical company that is producing the coronavirus vaccine at the Wrexham manufacturing site, confirmed that a suspicious package was received, and "all relevant authorities were immediately notified and engaged."

"Upon expert advice we have partially evacuated the site pending a full investigation," Wockhardt said, adding that the "safety of our employees and business continuity remain of paramount importance."

Boris Johnson Visits Laboratory In North Wales
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts as he views the last minute quality testing of the 'fill and finish' stage of the manufacturing process of COVID-19 vaccines, during his visit to Wockhardt's pharmaceutical manufacturing facility on November 30, 2020 in Wrexham, Wales. Paul Ellis/WPA Pool/Getty

"Production at the Wockhardt site is currently on hold while the situation is resolved, because the safety of our staff is paramount," the firm told the BBC in a subsequent statement, adding that it still hoped to meet its "previously approved production schedule." 

The company struck an agreement with the British government, which reserved a production line at the plant to guarantee the supply of the COVID-19 vaccines. The plant has the capacity to produce 300 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine annually.

The company recently hosted Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who hailed the agreement as a milestone in Britain's vaccine distribution program.

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