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The second anniversary of the nerve agent attack in Salisbury co-incides with the arrival of a new invisible threat – Corona virus. There’s something about these silent killers which strikes fear into the human psyche. There are measures we can take to combat their effectiveness, but all the while we fear they may be upon us without us knowing. A very thin silver lining in the dark cloud of Salisbury is that some of the lessons learned then are useful now.

The cost to the UK Government of the Salisbury attack was huge, probably in the hundreds of £millions bracket.  The decontamination took 18 months for less than quarter of an egg cup of the agent.  Novichok was designed by the Russians to overmatch NATO’s defensive capabilities, and it is extremely toxic and very persistent.  The small amount of agent is enough to kill thousands of people, but for the brilliance and fortitude of the UK Military, Police, Fire and Ambulance Services this could have been the case.  A number of unlikely pieces of luck construed to turn what could have been a murder on a monumental scale to the death of an innocent civilian. 

In Salisbury the most likely explanation of what happened remains that  It appears that two Russian secret agents tried to assassinate former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal.  He and his daughter Yulia survived, but Salisbury resident Dawn Sturgess died after coming into contact with the deadly agent Novichok.  Notwithstanding this, the Skripals have been incarcerated for the last 2 years with little hope of reprieve as security experts  believe there remains a threat to their lives after the bungled attack.

Russia has form in the use of these morbidly brilliant weapons most notably in its support President Assad’s forces. Their psychological effect to physical, is 10 as to 1 and they are very survivable if you have a basic understanding of them.  This we have proved in Syria by basic education, and after the lessons we learnt from the Ghouta attack, relatively few people have become casualties in Syria, especially from the secondary effects but they still have the ability to terrify people.

The Corona virus scare is also showing how fixating ‘pathogens’ can be.  If Corona was a deadly pathogen like, plague or anthrax, we would be rightly more frightened.  As it is, most governments, including the UK are putting in strict measures to prevent the spread of this virus.  Morbidity for Corona appears to be in the single digits, but man-engineered biological or chemical weapons can be in the 90% bracket if untreated.  However, lessons learnt from the Salisbury attack about decontamination and passage of information are standing us in good stead to likely reduce the impacts of the Corona virus.

On 4 Mar 18 we knew very little about Novichok, we now know a great deal and can probably nullify most of their deadly effects. 

On the second anniversary of the Salisbury attack it is timely to praise those who so massively reduced the impact of this crime and to remind our politicians that they are responsible to confine these illegal and indiscriminate weapons to history once again.  And thank heavens we have brilliant emergency services, NHS and military to counter chemical attacks and the lessons learnt will put us in good stead to mitigate the worse of the Corona virus.

You can now pre-order Hamish’s new book, Chemical Warrior, from Amazon ahead of its publication in September.

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