Updated Mar 16, 2018

Russian nerve agent from Skripal attack a deadly game-changer

U.S. troops participating in sarin gas and VX nerve agent training. The toxin used in the Salisbury, U.K., attack is up to 10 times more potent than VX. Photo: Leif Skoogfors / Corbis via Getty Images

The Novichok or N-series nerve agent — used in last week’s attack against Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, U.K. — is distinct from the better known G- and V-series nerve agents, which unfortunately have become more familiar after their use in Syria and by terrorist groups.

How it works: Nerve agents interfere with neurotransmitters, causing involuntary muscle contractions, impaired cardiac function and airway restriction, potentially culminating in death by asphyxiation. They interfere with the nervous system in stages, making rapid decontamination and treatment essential.

Novichok is up to 10 times more potent than the VX that was used to kill the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last year. It can penetrate NATO chemical protective gear and was specifically designed to be undetectable using NATO and U.K. sensors.

The bottom line: The use of Novichok represents a deadly game-changer for chemical warfare and nonproliferation. It demands global condemnation and an insistence that Russia account for how the nerve agent came to be used at all, much less on foreign soil.

Daniel M. Gerstein, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation and adjunct professor at American University, was formerly the acting undersecretary for Science and Technology at the Department of Homeland Security.

Go deeper

Coronavirus kills 2 Diamond Princess passengers and South Korea sees first death

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. U.S. numbers include Americans extracted from Princess Cruise ship.

Two elderly Diamond Princess passengers have been killed by the novel coronavirus — the first deaths confirmed among the more than 600 infected aboard the cruise ship. South Korea also announced its first death Thursday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed more than 2,200 people and infected over 75,465 others, mostly in mainland China, where the National Health Commission announced 118 new deaths since Thursday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Health

SoftBank to cut its stake to get T-Mobile's Sprint deal done

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

T-Mobile and Sprint announced a revised merger agreement that will see SoftBank getting a smaller share of the combined company, while most shareholders will receive the previously agreed upon exchange rate. The companies said they hope to get the deal as early as April 1.

Why it matters: The amended deal reflects the decline in Sprint's business, while leaving most shareholders' stake intact and removing another hurdle to the deal's closure.