Residents in Amesbury and Salisbury are being warned not to pick up “any foreign object which could contain liquid or gel” in a new advisory following the death of Novichok victim Dawn Sturgess.
As the mother-of-three’s family on Tuesday told of their devastation and remembered the 44-year-old as having “the biggest of hearts”, authorities issued fresh public health warnings.
Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies said people needed to avoid picking up foreign objects “in the interests of their own safety”.
“I want to emphasise to everyone in the Salisbury and Amesbury area that nobody, adult or child, should pick up any foreign object which could contain liquid or gel, in the interests of their own safety,” she said.
“This in practice means do not pick up containers, syringes, needles, cosmetics or similar objects, made of materials such as metal, plastic or glass.
“This is particularly important as families are starting to prepare for their children’s summer holidays and so I am asking that people are extra vigilant. To be clear: do not pick up anything that you haven’t dropped yourself.”
Davies reiterated earlier advice that the “threat to the public is unchanged” and remains low and said that people could continue to use the areas that were cleaned and released back to the public.
The head of UK counter-terrorism policing later said it was implausible that the two Novichok poisonings are not linked.
Neil Basu, the Met Police’s assistant commissioner for specialist operations, said he believed it was unlikely the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in March, and the later poisonings were separate.
In a statement released through the Met police, Sturgess’s family said her death in hospital on Sunday, after falling ill along with her partner Charlie Rowley on June 30, “has been devastating for us”.
“Dawn will always be remembered by us as a gentle soul who was generous to a fault,” the family wrote.
“She would do anything for anybody and those who knew Dawn would know that she would gladly give her last penny to somebody in need.”
Sturgess’s family said she had the “biggest of hearts and she will be dreadfully missed by both her immediate and wider family”.
Rowley, 45, is still in hospital but regained consciousness on Tuesday, showing a “small but significant” improvement in his condition, medics said.
The Sturgess family added: “Our thoughts and prayers also go out to Charlie and his family and we wish Charlie a speedy recovery.”
The family thanked the “wonderful doctors” who cared for Sturgess, giving her “every possible chance of survival and treated her with the utmost care and dignity”, the local community for their support, and police.
The family’s statement ended by asking for privacy and for people to “stop speculating about Dawn and what has happened”.
Police on Monday said that Sturgess and Rowley must have been exposed to a “high dose” of the nerve agent and suspect that the couple “must have handled a container that we are now seeking”.
Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said police were unable to say if the nerve agent the couple were exposed to was linked to the March 4 attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury.
“However, this remains our main line of inquiry,” he said.
Basu added that there was no evidence to suggest the couple had visited any of the Salisbury sites that were decontaminated in the four months since the Skripals fell ill.
Detailed searches are continuing at Sturgess’s address at John Baker House, Salisbury and Rowley’s home in Muggleton Road, Amesbury, along with Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury.
“Our focus and priority is to find and identify any container that we think might be the source of this contamination,” Basu said on Monday.
Dame Sally urged Amesbury and Salisbury residents not to seek advice from health professionals “unless you are experiencing symptoms”.
Anyone concerned about their health is urged to call NHS 111 and Wilshire Police has also established a helpline to offer further advice: 0800 092 0410.