BRITISH police scrambled on last Thursday to determine how a couple were exposed to the same nerve agent used on a former Russian spy earlier this year, leaving them critically ill.

The couple were taken ill on Saturday in the village of Amesbury, close to the city of Salisbury, where former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a bench on March 4 in the incident that sparked a diplomatic crisis with Russia.

''The possibility that these two investigations might be linked is clearly a line of inquiry for us,"said Neil Basu, head of Britain's counter-terrorism police force.

Police late Wednesday that tests on the couple, named locally as 44-year-old woman Dawn Sturgess and 48 year-old-man Charlie Rowley, revealed they had been exposed to Novichok, but could not say whether it was the same batch used on the Skripals.

Novichok, is a military grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The exposure of a apparently random British couple to the nerve agent is spreading fear through the normally quiet city in southwest England once again.

Interior Minister Sajid Javid is to chair an emergency cabinet meeting, as counter terrorism police lead the investigation into the incident.

Basu also insisted that there ''remains a low risk to the general public," saying "we're satisfied that if anyone was exposed to that kind of nerve agent by now they would be showing symptoms."

However, many questions remain over the source of the contamination and why tests were not conducted on the couple until Monday, two days after they were taken ill.

"The priority for the investigation team from now is to establish how these two people have come into contact with this nerve agent," Basu said.

"We have no idea what may have contained the nerve agent at this time," he said, urging members of the public not to touch anything if they did not know what it was.

Basu said there was no evidence to suggest that the couple '' were targeted in any way."


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