The country’s pharma plants have continued to run through the nationwide lockdown, and now a few cases of employees testing positive for the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) have started flowing in. While most hubs continue to operate despite these challenges, state regulators are on their toes to ensure that production is not hit and protocols are followed.
In Himachal’s Baddi, for example, some first information reports (FIRs), too, have been registered in cases where deviation to the advised protocol has been observed. With around 50 plants in Baddi, Himachal came under a containment zone area and the state FDA is now on its toes to ensure that none get affected.
Speaking to Business Standard, Navneet Marwaha, state drug controller of Himachal Pradesh, said we have asked all our drug inspectors to visit the manufacturing plants daily. They will ensure that standard operating procedures (SoPs) are being strictly followed.
“A 50-point SoP has been handed over to the plants and we are closely monitoring the functioning. About 400 pharma units are now operational in all of Himachal. So far, no positive cases have come up here, fortunately,” he said.
Marwaha added that the police are also helping to ensure that safety protocols are being followed in the manufacturing belt. Buses carrying employees need to be filled up to 30-35 per cent capacity. Any deviation can now attract penal action in Baddi.
Gujarat, that roughly accounts for 35 per cent of India’s pharma production and even exports, has not been so lucky. With workers at Cadila Pharmaceuticals’ Dholka facility and Sun Pharma’s Halol unit testing positive, more stringent safety and sanitization measures may be expected now, say industry players.
Recently, while 26 workers at Cadila Pharmaceuticals facility in Ahmedabad tested positive for Covid-19, one person at Sun Pharma’s Halol plant tested positive.
A Cadila Pharma spokesperson said the company had closed its operations and undertaken deep sanitization of the plant and its surroundings. “We are cooperating with the local administration at all levels to ensure the safety and security of our facility and surroundings. Being an essential industry, we remain committed to restore normalcy at the plant at the earliest in consultation with the authorities,” the spokesperson further stated.
The country’s largest drug maker, too, had to grapple with employees testing positive for the novel coronavirus. Recently, Sun Pharma had revealed that one of its employees at the Halol plant, near Vadodara in Gujarat, had tested positive for the virus.
“We immediately traced the employees who were working with him and quanrantined them. Fortunately, all of them have tested negative for the virus and they can resume work soon. Meanwhile, the section in which this employee was working has been deep-cleaned and sanitized,” said a company spokesperson.
He added that production at the plant was not hit due to the incident. The infected employee was working in a small section of the plant and also had limited contact with other employees.
Though unfortunate, the incidents, in no way, would impact production since manufacturing drugs is inevitable, said H G Koshia, Commissioner, Food and Drug Control Administration (FDCA), Gujarat. Like Himachal, Gujarat, too, has released SoPs to all manufacturing units.
Gujarat wing of the Indian Drug Manufacturers’ Association (IDMA) felt that since most cases are asymptomatic, it is difficult to detect positive ones quickly.
“As an industry, we will ensure that more stringent measures are taken. Production, however, cannot halt because of this,” said Viranchi Shah, chairman of IDMA, Gujarat.
With several units in the industry growing from a mere 20-30 per cent capacity utilisation in the early days of the lockdown to 70-80 per cent now, enhancing safety measures is the only way ahead, said Mahendra Patel, managing director (MD) of Ahmedabad-based Lincoln Pharmaceuticals.
Patel said steps like higher frequency of screenings, contact tracing of each employee along with their family members as well as reviewing their living conditions are now essential.
Some units in Gujarat have taken steps to house their workers inside plants. Vapi-based Richter Themis, for instance, has placed orders for makeshift cardboard beds with another Gujarat-based company Aryan Papers for its workers.
Chief executive officer (CEO) of the firm Rajneesh Anand said getting employees to work was also a challenge. “Some chemists who work here come from neighbouring villages. The sarpanches restrict them from coming out of that area,” he said. Apart from regular safety protocols, Themis is organising daily awareness sessions for its workers.
The Vapi-Valsad belt in Gujarat has not yet reported any case. Another leading pharma manufacturing hub, Sikkim, too, has been spared so far. “Strict protocols are here to stay. This is the new normal,” said Marwaha.