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Couple critical after exposure to substance in British town where Russian spy was poisoned

Police officers are seen outside a residential address in Amesbury, southern England, on July 4, 2018 where police reported a man and woman were found unconscious in circumstances that sparked a major incident.

[LONDON] British police declared a "major incident" early Wednesday after a man and woman in their 40s were believed to have been exposed to an "unknown substance" near the historic town of Salisbury in south England.

Counterterrorism investigators from the Metropolitan Police have also been dispatched to assist.

Authorities said the two, who were found unconscious over the weekend, are in critical condition in the same Salisbury hospital where the former Russian spy and double agent Sergei Skirpal and his adult daughter Yulia were treated after being poisoned by the Soviet-era nerve agent known as Novichok four months ago.

After lengthy treatment, the Skirpals were released and continue to recover in an undisclosed location, protected by British authorities.

It is unclear whether there is any connection between the two cases and police said tests were ongoing to discover what sickened the two people in the latest case of a suspected poisoning.

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"Based upon the number of casualties affected, it is not believed that there is a significant health risk to the wider public," said the Wiltshire Police, adding that it was not yet known if the two were the victims of a crime.

Officials said the officers were keeping "an open mind" to see where the evidence leads them.

"Emergency services were called to an address in Muggleton Road, Amesbury on Saturday evening (June 30) after a man and woman, both in their 40s, were found unconscious in a property," the police said.

Authorities initially suspected the two had taken a contaminated batch of illegal drugs.

Officials did not say why they had waited four days to declare a "major incident."

"Wiltshire Police and partners have this evening declared a major incident after it is suspected that two people might have been exposed to an unknown substance in Amesbury," police said.

Amesbury is about six miles north of Salisbury. Police cordoned off several sites in both Amesbury and Salisbury where they suspected that the couple visited. Local reporters said the sites included a church and a park.


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