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Novichok nerve agent patient regains consciousness

A police officer guards a cordoned off area in the city centre where former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found poisoned, in Salisbury, Britain, April 3, 2018. Photograph: (Reuters)

AFP London, UK Jul 10, 2018, 11.03 PM (IST)

A 45-year-old British man who was left critically ill after being exposed to the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok has regained consciousness, the hospital treating him said Tuesday.

"We have seen a small but significant improvement in the condition of Charlie Rowley. He is in a critical but stable condition and is now conscious."

"While this is welcome news, clearly we are not out of the woods yet. Charlie is still very unwell and will continue to require specialist, round-the-clock care here at Salisbury District Hospital," the hospital said in a statement.

Rowley's partner Dawn Sturgess, 44, died on Sunday.

The two collapsed at different times on June 30 at Rowley's home in Amesbury, a town close to the city of Salisbury in southwest England where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with the same toxin four months ago.

Police initially thought they had consumed a contaminated batch of illegal drugs but their symptoms prompted further testing which confirmed their exposure to Novichok.

Police now believe the two handled a contaminated item with a high dose of Novichok, although they have not been able to confirm if it was from the same batch as the one used in the attempted murder of the Skripals.

The father and daughter have recovered since their March 4 collapse.

England's Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies on Tuesday warned residents of Salisbury and Amesbury that they should not "pick up any foreign object which could contain liquid or gel, in the interests of their own safety".

"This, in practice, means do not pick up containers, syringes, needles, cosmetics or similar objects, made of materials such as metal, plastic or glass," she said.

The probe, which is led by counter-terrorism police, has led to the seizure of a car in Swindon, 40 miles (64 kilometres) from Salisbury, although police would not give details.

Sturgess's family paid tribute to the mother of three, calling her "a gentle soul who was generous to a fault".

"Dawn's death has been devastating for us," they said in a statement on Tuesday.

Britain has blamed Russia for the attack on the Skripals -- a charge strongly denied by Moscow which has challenged British authorities to publish the evidence.

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