Two people who fell ill in England were poisoned with a nerve agent, police have said. It is the second such poisoning to occur this year.
A couple who fell seriously ill near the English town of Amesbury were poisoned with the same Novichok nerve agent used in the nearby Skripal incident, British police confirmed on Wednesday.
The Skripal case caused a rift between the UK and Russia, after the UK concluded that the nerve agent used was Soviet-made. Moscow denied the claim and the confrontation led to an exchange of diplomat expulsions between both countries.
What we know so far:
- A 45-year-old man and a 44-year-old woman were found unconscious on Saturday at a house in a quiet neighborhood of Amesbury, just 12 kilometers (8 miles) from Salisbury, where the Skripals were poisoned.
- They are in a critical condition in the same UK hospital where Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia were treated.
- Local police have established two help lines to take calls from those who may have concerns about a possible contamination.
- Police have restricted access to five locations, including a park and a property in Salisbury, and a pharmacy and a community center in Amesbury.
- Scientists are conducting tests on the substance to see if it belongs to the same batch as the one in the Skripal case.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he would chair a meeting of the government’s emergency committee on Thursday. “(This) follows the reckless and barbaric attack which took place in Salisbury in March.”
Britain’s counter-terrorism police chief Neil Basu said there was no indication the couple were deliberately targeted, based on what was known about them. But he said it was unclear how the nerve agent was transmitted.
England’s Chief Medical Officer said the risk to the general public remained low.
A Downing Street spokesperson said the incident was being treated “with the utmost seriousness.”
What is Novichok? Novichok is a series of highly toxic nerve agents developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, which have a slightly different chemical composition than the VX nerve agent and sarin poison gases.
The Skripal case: Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, were found slumped over a bench outside a shopping center in Salisbury in March. Authorities found they had been poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent in the first known chemical weapon attack on European soil since World War II. Prime Minister Theresa May’s government accused Russia of being behind the attack, a charge furiously denied by Moscow, leading to a diplomatic crisis. Both the US and the European Union backed the UK’s claim of Russian responsibility.
jcg/aw (AFP, Reuters, dpa)