British police have ruled out the nerve agent Novichok in an incident in which two people fell ill after eating in a restaurant in Salisbury, the town where former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned in March.
“Earlier this evening, Wiltshire Police and partners declared a major incident following a report that two people had fallen ill in Salisbury,” police said in a statement early on September 17.
“We can now confirm that there is nothing to suggest that Novichok is the substance.”
“At this stage, it is not yet clear if a crime has been committed and inquiries remain ongoing,” it said.
Police said a man in his 40s and a woman in her 30s had become ill after eating at around 6:45 p.m. The two were said to be conscious as ambulances and hazardous materials crews arrived at the scene.
After the incident, the Prezzo restaurant where the two had eaten and nearby streets in the city center were cordoned off by police “in a highly precautionary approach.”
Police said the cordon will remain around the restaurant as the investigation continues. Cordons were lifted from all other areas, officials added.
Skripal and daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury on March 4.
They were both in critical condition and spent several weeks in the hospital but were later released, with British officials saying they are making a good recovery. Their whereabouts are being kept secret.
Sergei Skripal is a former double agent who was convicted of spying and imprisoned in Russia but was released and sent to Britain in a 2010 spy swap.
British officials say the Skripals were poisoned with Novichok, a military-grade chemical weapon that was developed in the Soviet Union, and blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin's government for the attack.
A British citizen, Dawn Sturgess, died in June and her boyfriend, Charlie Rowley, was made ill when they stumbled across remnants of the poison in a town near Salisbury.
Russia denies involvement, and a diplomatic confrontation over the case has led to sanctions and the expulsion of more than 150 Russian diplomats from two dozen Western countries.
On September 5, British authorities announced they had charged two Russian men, identified as Aleksandr Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, with carrying out the poisoning on March 4.
British authorities said a European arrest warrant had been issued for the two Russians.
The men appeared in an interview on Kremlin-funded RT television station on September 13 to proclaim their innocence and said they were merely tourists in the city southwest of London.
James Slack, spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May, derided their claims as "lies and blatant fabrications."