Bomb squad called after suspicious package found at UK vaccine plant

Police investigate parcel found at site where AstraZeneca's Covid-19 doses are produced

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

A bomb disposal unit was called on Wednesday to a UK factory where doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine are manufactured after the plant received a suspicious package.

The Wockhardt UK plant in Wrexham, north Wales, was evacuated while the package was made safe.

"We can now confirm that the package was made safe and staff are now being allowed back into the facility," Wockhardt UK said in a statement. "This temporary suspension of manufacturing has in no way affected our production schedule."

Police did not clarify whether the package had posed a threat but said the contents would be analysed and there would be an investigation into the circumstances.

Earlier, the company said: "Upon expert advice we have partially evacuated the site pending a full investigation. The safety of our employees and business continuity remain of paramount importance."

The incident came only hours after AstraZeneca refuted EU claims that the pharmaceutical company was selling vaccine doses to the highest bidder.

The Wrexham plant is used to fill vials of the vaccine before it is packed and distributed.

Ian Hunter, a technician at the site which was visited by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in December, told the Daily Post newspaper they initially thought the police presence was due to a visiting dignitary.

“We were loading up the wagons when the police arrived and set up a cordon," Mr Hunter said.

"Initially we thought it might be a visiting dignitary following Boris Johnson’s visit just before Christmas. But then the bomb squad arrived and the police widened the cordon to a much bigger area.

"The police told us to stand back. We thought they must be dealing with a suspect package or something.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the bomb disposal unit was seen preparing a robot to examine the package.

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said the military was also at the scene.

"We are working with local police and the military to find out more about this incident," he said on Twitter.

"Thank you to the security personnel who are on-site to protect lives and ensure the safety of our vaccine supply. This highlights the vital role they play in keeping us all safe."

Last week, firefighters worked through the night to protect the factory and its adjoining warehouse to ensure supplies of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine were not damaged by heavy flooding in the area.

The plant, which also stores the product, has the capacity to produce about 300 million doses of the vaccine a year.

On Wednesday, AstraZeneca's chief executive Pascal Soriot was forced to defend company policy after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the EU “means business” in obtaining its fair share of vaccines.

AstraZeneca said last week that it would reduce vaccine deliveries to the continent because of production problems in its European supply chain.

"We are basically two months behind where we wanted to be," Mr Soriot said. "And the issue here is we've had also teething issues like this in the UK supply chain. As for Europe, we are three months behind in fixing those glitches."

He said the UK was on track to vaccinate 15 million people by mid-February.