UK police declare major incident after couple exposed to unknown substance | News | DW | 04.07.2018
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UK police declare major incident after couple exposed to unknown substance

Salisbury District Hospital is treating two people for suspected exposure to an unknown substance after they were found unconscious at the weekend. It is the same facility that treated Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

British counter-terrorism police have begun an investigation into a "major incident" after a couple fell ill from possible exposure to an unknown substance in the southern English city of Amesbury near Salisbury.
Wiltshire police appealed for information and cordoned off sites in and around both towns overnight into Wednesday after they found a man and a woman in their 40s unconscious in a building on Saturday evening.

They are being treated for suspected exposure to an unknown substance at Salisbury District Hospital. Both are in a critical condition.

Same hospital as Sergei Skripal

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were treated at the same hospital after they were poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent in March. The UK government accused Russia of responsibility for the attack.

Police had initially thought that the two unidentified patients fell ill after using heroin or crack cocaine. Police said they are now "keeping an open mind as to the circumstances surrounding this incident."

A Public Health England (PHE) spokesman said early Wednesday: "The current advice from PHE England, based upon the number of casualties affected, is that it is not believed that there is a significant health risk to the wider public. This will be continually assessed as further information becomes known."

The UK government's emergency response committee has met over the incident and a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said she is receiving regular updates on the investigation. "This is an incident which understandably is being treated with the utmost seriousness," he said.

Porton Down defense laboratory

Amesbury is 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the Porton Down science and technology laboratory operated by the Ministry of Defence. The 7,000-acre (2,800-hectare) site has been known for more than a century as one of the UK's most secretive military research facilities. A range of other private and commercial science organizations are also based there. 

According to a report in the Financial Times in March, the government increased funding of the Porton Down Defence Science and Technology Laboratory by 48 million pounds (€53 million, $63 million) following the poisoning of the Skripals. Scientists at the facility were key in identifying the nerve agent and in cleaning up affected sites in Salisbury following the attack. 

amp, jm/aw (Reuters, AFP)

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