British authorities have advised members of the public who may have been in attendance at a pub or a restaurant in Salisbury, England to wash their clothes and clean personal items with wet wipes after a former Russian spy, his daughter, and a police officer were found poisoned with a nerve agent.
Per the BBC, investigators believe that Sergei and Yulia Skripal ate “on a table away from other diners” at Zizzi restaurant when they were exposed to the nerve agent by parties unknown, but that they did discover trace amounts of the poison at the location and at the nearby Mill pub. Professor Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, said on Sunday that the risk to other patrons of either establishment was “low” and that the levels of toxin detected were only likely to result in health effects with chronic exposure.
“I am confident none of these customers or staff will have suffered harm,” Davies added. The list of advised steps includes washing clothes, wiping off personal items, and rinsing those objects that can survive contact with water in the sink.
“Contact with moisture will lead to breakdown of the nerve agent,” University of Leeds toxicologist Alastair Hay told the broadcaster. “This is why people having visited the restaurant or pub in question last Sunday afternoon or Monday are being advised to wash their possessions.”
The BBC added that several people who were present at the scene of the poisoning, which occurred on the evening of March 4th, are not pleased the government took this long to issue instructions. Area man Steve Cooper told the BBC some of his friends present at the bar could not remember what they were wearing.
Per NPR, some 21 people sought medical treatment over the course of the past week following the incident. The Skripals were found alive and passed out on a park bench but remain in a comatose state, while officer Sgt. Nick Bailey, who discovered them, was in serious condition but “conscious and able to talk.” Bailey later released a statement expressing gratitude for his support from the public.
The elder Skripal was imprisoned in Russia in 2006 for spying on behalf of the British but traded to the UK in 2010, and British officials suspect that the poisoning may be a belated act of revenge, per the Washington Post. According to the paper, the incident appears to be yet another in a long line of occasions where Russian critics of Vladimir Putin’s government abroad have turned up dead, and the apparent lack of subtlety may be part of the point. While the most famous incident involved Kremlin critic Alexander V. Litvinenko, who died of polonium-210 poisoning in London in 2006, the New York Times noted other suspicious deaths abroad have included journalists, whistle-blowers and ex-government officials.
Last year, BuzzFeed reported up to 14 deaths bear some signs of being part of the pattern. Some experts have cautioned the trend may be exaggerated, though Russian state media has taken to warning perceived “traitors” that they could meet unfortunate ends in the UK. Channel One host Kirill Kleymenov even quipped about how strange it is that so many UK-residing enemies of the Russian state “get hanged, poisoned, they die in helicopter crashes, and fall out of windows in industrial quantities.”