Hundreds of people could have been contaminated by the nerve agent that poisoned a Russian double agent in Salisbury, officials have confirmed, as locals questioned why they were not warned sooner.
A week after Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were left in a critical condition following an attack in the city, residents were advised to take action to protect themselves.
Anyone who visited the same pub or restaurant as the pair last Sunday were told to wash their clothes immediately and clean all jewellery, mobile phones, spectacles and other items with antiseptic wipes.
Staff at Zizzi's restaurant in the city, where the couple dined shortly before falling ill, were told to destroy any clothes they had been wearing at the time and also visit their doctor for a health check.
Drinkers at the popular Mill pub in the city were also urged to take similar steps if they were there between Sunday lunchtime and Monday night, when the venue was eventually sealed off by police.
Traces of the nerve agent - which has been identified but that officials have refused to name - have been found in both locations, it is understood.
Skripal poisoning - Salisbury map
England's chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, estimated that around 500 people could have been affected in the time window.
She insisted the risk to the public from the nerve agent remained low, but conceded that contact with the nerve agent, could pose a risk with "prolonged, long-term exposure" to the skin.
Anyone who visited either location on Sunday afternoon is being advised to:
- Wash the clothing that you were wearing in an ordinary washing machine using your regular detergent at the temperature recommended for the clothing
- Any items which cannot be washed, and which would normally be dry cleaned, should be put in two plastic bags tied at the top and stored safely in your own home. We are currently reviewing the best way of cleaning these clothes and will provide further advice on our website
- Wipe personal items such as phones, handbags and other electronic items with cleansing or baby wipes and dispose of the wipes in the bin (ordinary domestic waste disposal)
- Other items such as jewellery and spectacles which cannot go in the washing machine or be cleaned with cleansing or baby wipes, should be hand washed with warm water and detergent and then rinsed with clean cold water. Please thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water after cleaning any items.
On Monday, Theresa May will chair a meeting of the National Security Council, attended by the heads of all three intelligence agencies, after which she is expected to formally link Russia to the Salisbury poisonings.
Scientists at Porton Down, the Government's chemical warfare laboratory, are understood to have been carrying out final tests overnight that will prove beyond reasonable doubt that the nerve agent used in the attacks was made in Russia.
Mrs May is then expected to announce fresh sanctions against Russians close to President Putin, as well as the expulsion of some Russian diplomats from the UK.
There is growing anger among Salisbury residents over the delay in passing on information to the public.
Maureen Jones, 73, who has lived in Salisbury her entire life, said: "I can't understand why it has taken a week for them to tell people [this].
Dan Munday said: “Enough of this cloak and dagger stuff, let the public know what’s going on, it is our city after all.”
Another local who was in the Mill pub at around the same time as Mr Skripal and his daughter, said he was outraged that he was only being told to take preventative measures now.
He said: "I am not reassured because I do not know all the facts. What are the long term effects?"
While health officials insisted the risk to the public was minimal, members of the military, wearing chemical protection suits, continued to seal off parts of the city.
Just minutes after holding a press conference intended to reassure the public, scores of military personnel, police officers and paramedics descended on Bourne Hill police station and offices in the city.
Two military tents were set up and dozens of Army personnel donned protective suits as they moved a series of vehicles from the carpark.
It is thought the vehicles could have been used by police officers who attended the scene last Sunday.
Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who was one of the first responders last Sunday, remains in a serious condition in hospital, although he is able to sit up and talk.
Mystery still surrounds the exact circumstances of last week’s poisoning, with uncertainty remaining over when and where Mr Skiral and his daughter were targeted.
Philip Ingram a former intelligence and security officer, who has studied chemical warfare, said all the indications pointed towards a liquid nerve agent similar to the one used in the attack on the North Korean leader’s half brother last year.
Mr Ingram said: “The fact that traces have been found at multiple locations suggests this is almost certainly a thickened liquid that would have a very persistent effect.
“It could have been administered in a variety of ways, either by brushing into the target or perhaps by smearing it on clothing that would come into contact with his skin. But there are still many unanswered questions, not least how the police officer has come to be so ill.”
Maureen Jones, 73, who has lived in Salisbury her entire life, said the advice to wash clothing and wipe down other belongings had come too late.
She said: "I can't understand why it has taken a week for them to tell people they should do that."
Julie Green who also lives in Salisbury, said: "You can't help but be a little concerned when you come in to the city centre and see large areas cordoned off and lots of people in protective suits around you."
John Glen, the MP for Salisbury said he was frustrated: "It is an evolving investigation, so understanding what has happened and what the effects of his nerve agent are is still being worked on. But I am somewhat frustrated that Public Health England did not inform me what was going on."
He added: "I also find it slightly odd that the chief medical officer is making a statement to camera in London about this situation when the people want some reassurance here in Salisbury."
But Dr Jenny Harries, joint director of Public Health England (PHE), defended the decision to issue new guidance a week after the initial poisoning.
She said: "This is about a very, very small risk of repetitive contact with traces of contamination that people may have taken out. The advice we're giving today about washing clothes - very simple things... that will remove that risk as we go forward."