UK demands Russia explain nerve attack after two more people struck down

 

AMESBURY, England, July 5 (Reuters) - Britain demanded on Thursday that Russia provide details about the Novichok nerve agent attack on a former double agent and his daughter after two British citizens were struck down with the same poison.

The two Britons, a 44-year-old woman and a 45-year-old man, were critically ill after an apparently chance encounter with the poison near the site of the March attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

Britain has accused Russia of poisoning the Skripals with Novichok - a nerve agent developed by the Soviet military during the Cold War - in what is the first known offensive use of such a chemical weapon on European soil since World War Two.

Russia, which is currently hosting the soccer World Cup, has denied any involvement in the March incident and suggested the British security services had carried out the attack to stoke anti-Moscow hysteria.

SEE ALSO: Two Britons poisoned with Novichok nerve agent near where Russian spy was struck down

"The eyes of the world are currently on Russia, not least because of the World Cup," British Home Secretary Sajid Javid said. "It is now time that the Russian state comes forward and explains what has gone on."

"It is completely unacceptable for our people to be either deliberate or accidental targets, or for our streets, our parks and towns to be dumping grounds for poison," he told parliament.

The Kremlin said Russia had offered Britain its assistance in investigating the nerve agent attack and had been rebuffed.

Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking alongside Chancellor Angela Merkel during a visit to Berlin, said it was "deeply disturbing" that two more people had been exposed to Novichok, adding her thoughts were with the people of the area.

27 PHOTOS
Two Britons poisoned with Novichok nerve agent near where Russian spy was struck down
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Two Britons poisoned with Novichok nerve agent near where Russian spy was struck down
Forensic investigators, wearing protective suits, emerge from the rear of John Baker House, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve-agent Novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Deputy Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police Paul Mills addresses the media outside the Bowman Centre community hall, after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Deputy Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police Paul Mills addresses the media outside the Bowman Centre community hall, after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Police officers guard outside a branch of Boots pharmacy, which has been cordoned off after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Police officers stand next to a section of playing field near Amesbury Baptist Church, which has been cordoned off after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Sam Hobson, aged 29, talks to television crews outside Amesbury Baptist Church, after describing himself as a friend of the two people who were hospitalised, and as a result, police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A police officer stands in front of Amesbury Baptist Church, which has been cordoned off after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Fire and Rescue Service safety equipment lies on the ground at the site of a housing estate on Muggleton Road, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve-agent Novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Police officers stand in front of a housing development on Muggleton Road, which has been cordoned off after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A police officer stands in front of Amesbury Baptist Church, which has been cordoned off after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Wiltshire Police Chief Constable Kier Pritchard speaks at a news conference at Antrobus House, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve-agent Novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Police officers stand in front of Amesbury Baptist Church, which has been cordoned off after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Police officers guard the entrance to a housing estate on Muggleton Road, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve-agent Novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A police officer stands in front of a housing development on Muggleton Road, which has been cordoned off after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
A police officer stands in front of a housing development on Muggleton Road, which has been cordoned off after two people were hospitalised and police declared a 'major incident', in Amesbury, Wiltshire, Britain, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - JULY 04: Police officers stand at a cordon around a public litter bin next to a supported housing project, thought to be connected to a man and woman from Amesbury who are in hospital after being exposed to an unknown substance on July 4, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The pair, who are in their 40s, are in a critical condition after being found unconscious at an address in Muggleton Road, Amesbury. The town is around 10 miles from Salisbury where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in a suspected nerve agent attack. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - JULY 04: A police officer stands at a cordon around a public litter bin next to a supported housing project in Salisbury, thought to be connected to a man and woman from Amesbury who are in hospital after being exposed to an unknown substance on July 4, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The pair, who are in their 40s, are in a critical condition after being found unconscious at an address in Muggleton Road, Amesbury. The town is around 10 miles from Salisbury where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in a suspected nerve agent attack. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - JULY 04: A police officer stands at a cordon around a public litter bin next to a supported housing project in Salisbury, thought to be connected to a man and woman from Amesbury who are in hospital after being exposed to an unknown substance on July 4, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The pair, who are in their 40s, are in a critical condition after being found unconscious at an address in Muggleton Road, Amesbury. The town is around 10 miles from Salisbury where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in a suspected nerve agent attack. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills give a statement to the media outside the Bowman Centre in Amesbury, north of Salisbury, southern England, on July 4, 2018. - Two people have been hospitalised in a critical condition for exposure to an 'unknown substance' in the same British city where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent earlier this year. British police declared a 'major incident' after the couple, a man and a woman in their 40s, were discovered unconscious at a house in a quiet, newly-built area in Amesbury. (Photo by Geoff CADDICK / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images)
AMESBURY, ENGLAND - JULY 04: Police officers stand at a cordon around an area of grass near to Amesbury Baptist Centre as Wiltshire Police declare a major incident after a man and woman were exposed to an unknown substance on July 4, 2018 in Amesbury, England. The pair, who are in their 40s, are in a critical condition after being found unconscious at an address in Muggleton Road, Amesbury. The town is around 10 miles from Salisbury where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in a suspected nerve agent attack. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
AMESBURY, ENGLAND - JULY 04: Police on the scene outside an Amesbury branch of Boots pharmacy as Wiltshire Police declare a major incident after a man and woman were exposed to an unknown substance on July 4, 2018 in Amesbury, England. The pair, who are in their 40s, are in a critical condition after being found unconscious at an address in Muggleton Road Amesbury. The town is around 10 miles from Salisbury where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in a suspected nerve agent attack. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - JULY 04: Police officers on the scene outside Harcourt Medical Centre by Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury, thought to be connected to a man and woman in Amesbury who are in hospital after being exposed to an unknown substance on July 4, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The pair, who are in their 40s, are in a critical condition after being found unconscious at an address in Muggleton Road, Amesbury. The town is around 10 miles from Salisbury where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in a suspected nerve agent attack. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
A police officer stands guard behind a housing estate on Muggleton Road, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve-agent Novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - JULY 04: A police cordon is in place at Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury, thought to be connected to a man and woman in Amesbury who are in hospital after being exposed to an unknown substance on July 4, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The pair, who are in their 40s, are in a critical condition after being found unconscious at an address in Muggleton Road, Amesbury. The town is around 10 miles from Salisbury where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in a suspected nerve agent attack. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - JULY 04: A police officer stands at a cordon at Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury, thought to be connected to a man and woman in Amesbury who are in hospital after being exposed to an unknown substance on July 4, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The pair, who are in their 40s, are in a critical condition after being found unconscious at an address in Muggleton Road, Amesbury. The town is around 10 miles from Salisbury where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in a suspected nerve agent attack. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Forensic investigators wearing protective suits enter the rear of John Baker House, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve-agent Novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Police cordon around Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury, Wiltshire, near to Amesbury where a major incident has been declared after it was suspected that two people might have been exposed to an unknown substance. (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
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MYSTERY

In the latest twist in one of the most mysterious poisonings of recent years, the two Britons - who were taken ill on Saturday - were initially thought to have taken an overdose of heroin or crack cocaine.

But tests by the Porton Down military research center showed they had been exposed to Novichok. Britain has notified the global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), about the poisoning.

It is unclear how the two Britons, whose background has nothing to suggest a link to the world of espionage or the former Soviet Union, came into contact with the poison, which is slow to decompose.

Interior minister Javid said the substance that the two people were exposed to was the same variant of Novichok that struck down the Skripals.

Paramedics were called on Saturday morning to a house in the town of Amesbury after the woman, named by media as Dawn Sturgess, collapsed. They returned later in the day when the man, Charlie Rowley, also fell ill.

Amesbury is 11 km (seven miles) north of Salisbury, where Skripal - a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who betrayed dozens of agents to Britain's MI6 foreign spy service - and his daughter were found slumped unconscious on a park bench on March 4.

57 PHOTOS
UK investigates nerve agent attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal
See Gallery
UK investigates nerve agent attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Forensic police officers wearing hazmat suits prepare to examine a vehicle believed to belong to Sergei Skripal on March 8, 2018 in Salisbury, England. Police investigations continue into the use of a nerve agent to poison Sergei Skripal, who was found ill in a Salisbury park with his daughter on March 4. Both Sergei Skripal and his daughter remain in a critical condition in hospital. Sergei Skripal was granted refuge in the UK following a spy swap between the US and Russia in 2010. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
A picture shows the tent over the bench where a man and a woman were found in critical condition sparking a major incident on March 4 at The Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury, southern England, on March 8, 2018 after the tent became detached. British detectives on March 8 scrambled to find the source of the nerve agent used in the 'brazen and reckless' attempted murder of a Russian former double-agent and his daughter. Sergei Skripal, 66, who moved to Britain in a 2010 spy swap, is unconscious in a critical but stable condition in hospital along with his daughter Yulia after they collapsed on a bench outside a shopping centre on Sunday. / AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALL (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the emergency services in green biohazard encapsulated suits afix the tent over the bench where a man and a woman were found on March 4 in critical condition at The Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury, southern England, on March 8, 2018 after the tent became detached. British detectives on March 8 scrambled to find the source of the nerve agent used in the 'brazen and reckless' attempted murder of a Russian former double-agent and his daughter. Sergei Skripal, 66, who moved to Britain in a 2010 spy swap, is unconscious in a critical but stable condition in hospital along with his daughter Yulia after they collapsed on a bench outside a shopping centre on Sunday. / AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALL (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture shows the tent over the bench where a man and a woman were found in critical condition sparking a major incident on March 4 at The Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury, southern England, on March 8, 2018 after the tent became detached. British detectives on March 8 scrambled to find the source of the nerve agent used in the 'brazen and reckless' attempted murder of a Russian former double-agent and his daughter. Sergei Skripal, 66, who moved to Britain in a 2010 spy swap, is unconscious in a critical but stable condition in hospital along with his daughter Yulia after they collapsed on a bench outside a shopping centre on Sunday. / AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALL (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Members of the emergency services in green biohazard encapsulated suits work to afix the tent over the bench where a man and a woman were found on March 4 in critical condition at The Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury, southern England, on March 8, 2018 after the tent became detached. British detectives on March 8 scrambled to find the source of the nerve agent used in the 'brazen and reckless' attempted murder of a Russian former double-agent and his daughter. Sergei Skripal, 66, who moved to Britain in a 2010 spy swap, is unconscious in a critical but stable condition in hospital along with his daughter Yulia after they collapsed on a bench outside a shopping centre on Sunday. / AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALL (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Members of the fire brigade in green biohazard encapsulated suits work to re-attach the tent over the bench where a man and a woman were found in critical condition sparking a major incident on March 4 at The Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury, southern England, on March 8, 2018 after the tent became detached. British detectives on March 8 scrambled to find the source of the nerve agent used in the 'brazen and reckless' attempted murder of a Russian former double-agent and his daughter. Sergei Skripal, 66, who moved to Britain in a 2010 spy swap, is unconscious in a critical but stable condition in hospital along with his daughter Yulia after they collapsed on a bench outside a shopping centre on Sunday. / AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALL (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the fire brigade get suited in green biohazard encapsulated suits to work to re-attach the tent over the bench where a man and a woman were found in critical condition sparking a major incident on March 4 at The Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury, southern England, on March 8, 2018 after the tent became detached. British detectives on March 8 scrambled to find the source of the nerve agent used in the 'brazen and reckless' attempted murder of a Russian former double-agent and his daughter. Sergei Skripal, 66, who moved to Britain in a 2010 spy swap, is unconscious in a critical but stable condition in hospital along with his daughter Yulia after they collapsed on a bench outside a shopping centre on Sunday. / AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALL (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the fire brigade are helped out of their green biohazard encapsulated suits by colleagues in white protective coveralls after an operation to re-attach the tent over the bench where a man and a woman were found in critical condition sparking a major incident on March 4 at The Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury, southern England, on March 8, 2018 after the tent became detached. British detectives on March 8 scrambled to find the source of the nerve agent used in the 'brazen and reckless' attempted murder of a Russian former double-agent and his daughter. Sergei Skripal, 66, who moved to Britain in a 2010 spy swap, is unconscious in a critical but stable condition in hospital along with his daughter Yulia after they collapsed on a bench outside a shopping centre on Sunday. / AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALL (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Police officers search the home of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury who was found critically ill on a bench with his daughter on March 4 and were taken to hospital sparking a major incident on March 8, 2018 in Wiltshire, England. Sergei Skripal who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010 and his daughter remain critically ill after being attacked with a nerve agent. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Police officers search the home of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury who was found critically ill on a bench with his daughter on March 4 and were taken to hospital sparking a major incident on March 8, 2018 in Wiltshire, England. Sergei Skripal who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010 and his daughter remain critically ill after being attacked with a nerve agent. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
A police officer guards a cordon on a residential street in Salisbury, southern England, on March 8, 2018 where police forensic tents are errected and police continue to work in connection with the major incident which started at The Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury on March 4. British detectives on March 8 scrambled to find the source of the nerve agent used in the 'brazen and reckless' attempted murder of a Russian former double-agent and his daughter. Sergei Skripal, 66, who moved to Britain in a 2010 spy swap, is unconscious in a critical but stable condition in hospital along with his daughter Yulia after they collapsed on a bench outside a shopping centre on Sunday. / AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALL (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Forensic police officers wearing hazmat suits examine a vehicle believed to belong to Sergei Skripal on March 8, 2018 in Salisbury, England. Police investigations continue into the use of a nerve agent to poison Sergei Skripal, who was found ill in a Salisbury park with his daughter on March 4. Both Sergei Skripal and his daughter remain in critical condition in hospital. Sergei Skripal was granted refuge in the UK following a spy swap between the US and Russia in 2010. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Police stand guard at the home of Sergei Skripal on March 8, 2018 in Salisbury, England. Police investigations continue into the use of a nerve agent to poison Sergei Skripal, who was found ill in a Salisbury park with his daughter on March 4. Both Sergei Skripal and his daughter remain in a critical condition in hospital. Sergei Skripal was granted refuge in the UK following a spy swap between the US and Russia in 2010. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Police stand guard at Zizzil restaurant reported to have been visited by Sergei Skripal before he colapsed due to poisoning on March 8, 2018 in Salisbury, England. Police investigations continue into the use of a nerve agent to poison Sergei Skripal, who was found ill in a Salisbury park with his daughter on March 4. Both Sergei Skripal and his daughter remain in a critical condition in hospital. Sergei Skripal was granted refuge in the UK following a spy swap between the US and Russia in 2010. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Forensic police officers wearing hazmat suits examine a vehicle believed to belong to Sergei Skripal on March 8, 2018 in Salisbury, England. Police investigations continue into the use of a nerve agent to poison Sergei Skripal, who was found ill in a Salisbury park with his daughter on March 4. Both Sergei Skripal and his daughter remain in critical condition in hospital. Sergei Skripal was granted refuge in the UK following a spy swap between the US and Russia in 2010. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Forensic police officers wearing hazmat suits examine a vehicle believed to belong to Sergei Skripal on March 8, 2018 in Salisbury, England. Police investigations continue into the use of a nerve agent to poison Sergei Skripal, who was found ill in a Salisbury park with his daughter on March 4. Both Sergei Skripal and his daughter remain in critical condition in hospital. Sergei Skripal was granted refuge in the UK following a spy swap between the US and Russia in 2010. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Forensic police officers wearing hazmat suits prepare to examine a vehicle believed to belong to Sergei Skripal on March 8, 2018 in Salisbury, England. Police investigations continue into the use of a nerve agent to poison Sergei Skripal, who was found ill in a Salisbury park with his daughter on March 4. Both Sergei Skripal and his daughter remain in critical condition in hospital. Sergei Skripal was granted refuge in the UK following a spy swap between the US and Russia in 2010. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Forensic police officers wearing hazmat suits examine a vehicle believed to belong to Sergei Skripal on March 8, 2018 in Salisbury, England. Police investigations continue into the use of a nerve agent to poison Sergei Skripal, who was found ill in a Salisbury park with his daughter on March 4. Both Sergei Skripal and his daughter remain in critical condition in hospital. Sergei Skripal was granted refuge in the UK following a spy swap between the US and Russia in 2010. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
Pedestrians walk past a cordoned-off branch of the Italian chain restaurant Zizzi close to The Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury, southern England, on March 8, 2018 which was closed in connection to the ongoing major incident sparked after a man and a woman were found critically ill on a bench at the shopping centre on March 4 after being apparently poisoned with what was later identified as a nerve agent sparking a major incident. Britain vowed on March 8 to act 'without hesitation' if a state is found responsible for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian double agent, as police said 21 people in total had received medical treatment following the incident. Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain unconscious in a critical but stable condition following the attack on Sunday in the sleepy south-western English city of Salisbury. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Police officers search ahead of the visit by Home Secretary Amber Rudd to the scene at the Maltings shopping centre in where former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter were found critically ill after exposure to a nerve agent on March 4 and were taken to hospital sparking a major incident, in Salisbury on March 9, 2018 in Wiltshire, England. Sergei Skripal who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010 and his daughter remain critically ill after being exposed to an 'unknown substance'. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: A police officer walks past a forensics tent over the grave of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal's wife Lyudmila in London Road cemetery, on March 9, 2018 in Salisbury, England. Sergei Skripal who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010 and his daughter remain critically ill after being exposed to an 'unknown substance'. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: A general view of a forensics tent over the grave of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal's son Alexander in London Road cemetery, on March 9, 2018 in Salisbury, England. Sergei Skripal who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010 and his daughter remain critically ill after being exposed to an 'unknown substance'. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 10: Police officers dress in protective suits and breathing apparatus in London Road cemetery as they continue investigations into the poisoning of Sergei Skripal who was found critically ill on a bench in Salisbury with his daughter sparking a major incident on March 10, 2018 in Salisbury, England. Sergei Skripal who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010 and his daughter remain critically ill after being attacked with a nerve agent. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 10: Police officers dress in protective suits and breathing apparatus in London Road cemetery as they continue investigations into the poisoning of Sergei Skripal who was found critically ill on a bench in Salisbury with his daughter sparking a major incident on March 10, 2018 in Salisbury, England. Sergei Skripal who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010 and his daughter remain critically ill after being attacked with a nerve agent. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
British police officers stand on duty at a cordon leading to the home of Russian spy Sergei Skripal, in Salisbury, southern England, on March 10, 2018. British soldiers were deployed on Friday to help a counter-terrorism investigation into a nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, as speculation mounted over how London could retaliate if the Russian state is found to be responsible. Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain unconscious in a critical but stable condition following the March 4 attack in the sleepy south-western English city of Salisbury. / AFP PHOTO / DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 10: A police officer stands at a cordon at the scene connected to the Sergei Skripal nerve agent attack on March 10, 2018 in Salisbury, England. Sergei Skripal who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010 and his daughter remain critically ill after being attacked with a nerve agent. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
Police tape surrounds a forensics tent covering the memorial stone to Alexander Skripal, inside the entrance of the London Road Cemetery in Salisbury, southern England, on March 10, 2018, where the wife and son of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal are buried. British soldiers were deployed on Friday to help a counter-terrorism investigation into a nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, as speculation mounted over how London could retaliate if the Russian state is found to be responsible. Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain unconscious in a critical but stable condition following the March 4 attack in the sleepy south-western English city of Salisbury. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A member of the emergency services wearing a protective suit works at the London Road Cemetery in Salisbury, southern England, on March 10, 2018, where the wife and son of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal are buried. British soldiers were deployed on Friday to help a counter-terrorism investigation into a nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, as speculation mounted over how London could retaliate if the Russian state is found to be responsible. Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain unconscious in a critical but stable condition following the March 4 attack in the sleepy south-western English city of Salisbury. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Personnel in protective coveralls and breathing equiptment work at the Salisbury District Hospital in Salisbury, southern England, on March 10, 2018, in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack. British soldiers were deployed on March 9 to help a counter-terrorism investigation into a nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, as speculation mounted over how London could retaliate if the Russian state is found to be responsible. Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain unconscious in a critical but stable condition following the March 4 attack in the sleepy south-western English city of Salisbury. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Personnel in protective coveralls and breathing equiptment cover an ambulance with a tarpaulin at the Salisbury District Hospital in Salisbury, southern England, on March 10, 2018, in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack. British soldiers were deployed on March 9 to help a counter-terrorism investigation into a nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, as speculation mounted over how London could retaliate if the Russian state is found to be responsible. Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain unconscious in a critical but stable condition following the March 4 attack in the sleepy south-western English city of Salisbury. The Counter Terrorism Policing Network requested assistance from the military to remove a number of vehicles and objects from Salisbury. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Military personnel in protective coveralls stand by as personnel cover ambulances in tarpaulins at the Salisbury District Hospital in Salisbury, southern England, on March 10, 2018, in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack. British soldiers were deployed on March 9 to help a counter-terrorism investigation into a nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, as speculation mounted over how London could retaliate if the Russian state is found to be responsible. Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain unconscious in a critical but stable condition following the March 4 attack in the sleepy south-western English city of Salisbury. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the emergency services in protective coveralls and breathing equiptment cover ambulances with tarpaulins at the Salisbury District Hospital in Salisbury, southern England, on March 10, 2018, in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack. British soldiers were deployed on March 9 to help a counter-terrorism investigation into a nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, as speculation mounted over how London could retaliate if the Russian state is found to be responsible. Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain unconscious in a critical but stable condition following the March 4 attack in the sleepy south-western English city of Salisbury. / AFP PHOTO / DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Personnel in protective coveralls and breathing equiptment cover an ambulance with a tarpaulin at the Salisbury District Hospital in Salisbury, southern England, on March 10, 2018, in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack. British soldiers were deployed on March 9 to help a counter-terrorism investigation into a nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, as speculation mounted over how London could retaliate if the Russian state is found to be responsible. Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain unconscious in a critical but stable condition following the March 4 attack in the sleepy south-western English city of Salisbury. The Counter Terrorism Policing Network requested assistance from the military to remove a number of vehicles and objects from Salisbury. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Military personnel in protective coveralls stand by as personnel cover ambulances in tarpaulins at the Salisbury District Hospital in Salisbury, southern England, on March 10, 2018, in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack. British soldiers were deployed on March 9 to help a counter-terrorism investigation into a nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, as speculation mounted over how London could retaliate if the Russian state is found to be responsible. Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain unconscious in a critical but stable condition following the March 4 attack in the sleepy south-western English city of Salisbury. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the emergency services in protective coveralls and breathing equiptment cover ambulances with tarpaulins and prepare to load them onto military low-loader vehicles at the Salisbury District Hospital in Salisbury, southern England, on March 10, 2018, in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack. British soldiers were deployed on March 9 to help a counter-terrorism investigation into a nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, as speculation mounted over how London could retaliate if the Russian state is found to be responsible. Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain unconscious in a critical but stable condition following the March 4 attack in the sleepy south-western English city of Salisbury. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the emergency services in protective coveralls and breathing equiptment load a covered ambulance onto a military low-loader vehicle at the Salisbury District Hospital in Salisbury, southern England, on March 10, 2018, in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack. British soldiers were deployed on March 9 to help a counter-terrorism investigation into a nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, as speculation mounted over how London could retaliate if the Russian state is found to be responsible. Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain unconscious in a critical but stable condition following the March 4 attack in the sleepy south-western English city of Salisbury. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 10: Military personnel wearing protective suits inspect a bin after an ambulance is removed from Salisbury ambulance station as they continue investigations into the poisoning of Sergei Skripal on March 10, 2018 in Salisbury, England. Sergei Skripal who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010 and his daughter remain critically ill after being attacked with a nerve agent. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 10: Military personnel wearing protective suits cover two ambulances with tarpaulin as they prepare to remove them from Salisbury ambulance station as they continue investigations into the poisoning of Sergei Skripal on March 10, 2018 in Salisbury, England. Sergei Skripal who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010 and his daughter remain critically ill after being attacked with a nerve agent. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
Personnel in protective coveralls and breathing equiptment cover an ambulance with a tarpaulin to be taken away by military personnel at the Salisbury District Hospital in Salisbury, southern England, on March 10, 2018, in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack. British soldiers were deployed on March 9 to help a counter-terrorism investigation into a nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, as speculation mounted over how London could retaliate if the Russian state is found to be responsible. Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain unconscious in a critical but stable condition following the March 4 attack in the sleepy south-western English city of Salisbury. The Counter Terrorism Policing Network requested assistance from the military to remove a number of vehicles and objects from Salisbury. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 10: Military personnel wearing protective suits cover a second ambulance after removing another from Salisbury ambulance station as they continue investigations into the poisoning of Sergei Skripal on March 10, 2018 in Salisbury, England. Sergei Skripal who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010 and his daughter remain critically ill after being attacked with a nerve agent. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
Personnel in protective coveralls and breathing equiptment work at the Salisbury District Hospital in Salisbury, southern England, on March 10, 2018, in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack. British soldiers were deployed on March 9 to help a counter-terrorism investigation into a nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, as speculation mounted over how London could retaliate if the Russian state is found to be responsible. Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain unconscious in a critical but stable condition following the March 4 attack in the sleepy south-western English city of Salisbury. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 10: Soldiers wearing hazmat suits seal a waste container at an ambulance depot on March 10, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The ambulance is believed to have carried former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal to hospital, after he and his daughter Yulia fell ill in Salisbury city centre on March 4. Both Sergei Skripal and his daughter remain in a critical condition due to the effects of an undisclosed nerve agent. The military have been called in to assist police in their investigation and containment of the major incident. Sergei Skripal was granted refuge in the UK following a spy swap between the US and Russia in 2010. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
Police officers stand in front of a cordon in front of a branch of the chain Italian restaurant Zizzi in Salisbury, southern England, on March 11, 2018, as investigations continue in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack a week ago. British police hunting the perpetrators behind a nerve agent attack on a Russian former spy are examining more than 200 pieces of evidence, London said after a meeting of the UK's national emergencies committee. Counter-terror police had identified more than 240 witnesses, the Home Office interior ministry said after a meeting of the committee known as COBRA, chaired by Home Secretary Amber Rudd. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
A pedestrian passes in front of a police cordon in front of a branch of the chain Italian restaurant Zizzi in Salisbury, southern England, on March 11, 2018, as investigations continue in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack a week ago. British police hunting the perpetrators behind a nerve agent attack on a Russian former spy are examining more than 200 pieces of evidence, London said after a meeting of the UK's national emergencies committee. Counter-terror police had identified more than 240 witnesses, the Home Office interior ministry said after a meeting of the committee known as COBRA, chaired by Home Secretary Amber Rudd. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 11: Police officers stand outside Zizzi restaurant as it remains closed as investigations continue into the poisoning of Sergei Skripal on March 11, 2018 in Salisbury, England. Sergei Skripal who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010 and his daughter remain critically ill after being attacked with a nerve agent. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - MARCH 11: A police officer stands outside The Mill as it remains closed as investigations continue into the poisoning of Sergei Skripal on March 11, 2018 in Salisbury, England. Sergei Skripal who was granted refuge in the UK following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010 and his daughter remain critically ill after being attacked with a nerve agent. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
A police officer stands at a police cordon at The Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury, southern England, on March 11, 2018, as investigations continue in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack a week ago. British police hunting the perpetrators behind a nerve agent attack on a Russian former spy are examining more than 200 pieces of evidence, London said after a meeting of the UK's national emergencies committee. Counter-terror police had identified more than 240 witnesses, the Home Office interior ministry said after a meeting of the committee known as COBRA, chaired by Home Secretary Amber Rudd. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
A police officer stands in front of The Mill pub in Salisbury, southern England, on March 11, 2018, as investigations continue in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack a week ago. Traces of a nerve agent used in the suspected attempted murder of a Russian ex-spy have been found in a pub and a restaurant he visited, England's chief medical officer said on March 11. Sally Davies said up to 500 people who had visited The Mill pub and the Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury, southwest England, needed to wash their clothes and belongings as a precaution. The March 4 attack on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia is being treated by detectives as attempted murder. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Military personnel, some in protective coveralls, carry equipment in a staging area at a cordon set up behind a police station in Salisbury, southern England, on March 11, 2018, as investigations and operations continue in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack a week ago. British police hunting the perpetrators behind a nerve agent attack on a Russian former spy are examining more than 200 pieces of evidence, London said after a meeting of the UK's national emergencies committee. Counter-terror police had identified more than 240 witnesses, the Home Office interior ministry said after a meeting of the committee known as COBRA, chaired by Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Military personnel were assisting police for a third day after being called in to remove vehicles and items. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Military personnel, some in protective coveralls, talk at a staging area at a cordon set up behind a police station in Salisbury, southern England, on March 11, 2018, as investigations and operations continue in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack a week ago. British police hunting the perpetrators behind a nerve agent attack on a Russian former spy are examining more than 200 pieces of evidence, London said after a meeting of the UK's national emergencies committee. Counter-terror police had identified more than 240 witnesses, the Home Office interior ministry said after a meeting of the committee known as COBRA, chaired by Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Military personnel were assisting police for a third day after being called in to remove vehicles and items. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
A military fork-lift vehicle is driven into an area cordoned off behind a police station in Salisbury, southern England, on March 11, 2018, as investigations and operations continue in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack a week ago. British police hunting the perpetrators behind a nerve agent attack on a Russian former spy are examining more than 200 pieces of evidence, London said after a meeting of the UK's national emergencies committee. Counter-terror police had identified more than 240 witnesses, the Home Office interior ministry said after a meeting of the committee known as COBRA, chaired by Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Military personnel were assisting police for a third day after being called in to remove vehicles and items. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
A military low-loader vehicle is driven into an area cordoned off behind a police station in Salisbury, southern England, on March 11, 2018, as investigations and operations continue in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack a week ago. British police hunting the perpetrators behind a nerve agent attack on a Russian former spy are examining more than 200 pieces of evidence, London said after a meeting of the UK's national emergencies committee. Counter-terror police had identified more than 240 witnesses, the Home Office interior ministry said after a meeting of the committee known as COBRA, chaired by Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Military personnel were assisting police for a third day after being called in to remove vehicles and items. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Military personnel wearing protective coveralls look at a map while others load a car onto a military vehicle in a cordoned off area behind a police station in Salisbury, southern England, on March 11, 2018, as investigations and operations continue in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack a week ago. British police hunting the perpetrators behind a nerve agent attack on a Russian former spy are examining more than 200 pieces of evidence, London said after a meeting of the UK's national emergencies committee. Counter-terror police had identified more than 240 witnesses, the Home Office interior ministry said after a meeting of the committee known as COBRA, chaired by Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Military personnel were assisting police for a third day after being called in to remove vehicles and items. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Military personnel wearing protective coveralls look at a map while others load a car onto a military vehicle in a cordoned off area behind a police station in Salisbury, southern England, on March 11, 2018, as investigations and operations continue in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack a week ago. British police hunting the perpetrators behind a nerve agent attack on a Russian former spy are examining more than 200 pieces of evidence, London said after a meeting of the UK's national emergencies committee. Counter-terror police had identified more than 240 witnesses, the Home Office interior ministry said after a meeting of the committee known as COBRA, chaired by Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Military personnel were assisting police for a third day after being called in to remove vehicles and items. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Military personnel wearing protective coveralls use a military fork-lift to lift a car onto a low-loader military vehicle in a cordoned off area behind a police station in Salisbury, southern England, on March 11, 2018, as investigations and operations continue in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack a week ago. British police hunting the perpetrators behind a nerve agent attack on a Russian former spy are examining more than 200 pieces of evidence, London said after a meeting of the UK's national emergencies committee. Counter-terror police had identified more than 240 witnesses, the Home Office interior ministry said after a meeting of the committee known as COBRA, chaired by Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Military personnel were assisting police for a third day after being called in to remove vehicles and items. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Military personnel wearing protective coveralls use a military fork-lift to lift a car onto a low-loader military vehicle in a cordoned off area behind a police station in Salisbury, southern England, on March 11, 2018, as investigations and operations continue in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack a week ago. British police hunting the perpetrators behind a nerve agent attack on a Russian former spy are examining more than 200 pieces of evidence, London said after a meeting of the UK's national emergencies committee. Counter-terror police had identified more than 240 witnesses, the Home Office interior ministry said after a meeting of the committee known as COBRA, chaired by Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Military personnel were assisting police for a third day after being called in to remove vehicles and items. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Military personnel in protective coveralls handle equipment during an operation in a cordoned off area behind a police station in Salisbury, southern England, on March 11, 2018, as investigations and operations continue in connection with the major incident sparked after a man and a woman were apparently poisoned in a nerve agent attack a week ago. British police hunting the perpetrators behind a nerve agent attack on a Russian former spy are examining more than 200 pieces of evidence, London said after a meeting of the UK's national emergencies committee. Counter-terror police had identified more than 240 witnesses, the Home Office interior ministry said after a meeting of the committee known as COBRA, chaired by Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Military personnel were assisting police for a third day after being called in to remove vehicles and items. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
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Health chiefs said the risk to the public was low, repeating their earlier advice that the public should wash their clothes and use cleansing wipes on personal items.

But the exposure of two British citizens to such a dangerous nerve agent will stoke fears that Novichok could be lingering at sites around the ancient English city of Salisbury.

Andrea Sella, professor of inorganic chemistry at University College London, said Novichok nerve agents were designed to be quite persistent and did not decompose quickly.

"That means that if a container or a surface was contaminated with this material it would remain a danger for a long time," Sella said.

After the Skripal poisoning, police investigators in protective suits scoured Salisbury. They may return, police said.

The March attack prompted the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the Cold War as allies sided with May's view that Moscow was either responsible or had lost control of the nerve agent.

Moscow hit back by expelling Western diplomats, questioning how Britain could know that Russia was responsible and offering rival interpretations, including that it amounted to a plot by British secret services.

(Additional reporting by Sarah Young, Kate Holton, Elizabeth Piper, William James and Kate Kelland in London, Andrew Osborn and Polina Nikolskaya in Moscow; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Gareth Jones and David Stamp)

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