Queen Elizabeth II has been infected with the coronavirus, Buckingham Palace said on Sunday, becoming one of the world’s most prominent figures to battle the virus and deeply rattling the country she has led for seven decades.
The palace did not provide any details about the condition or age of the queen, who turns 95 in April. A palace official stated that she is among many people at Windsor Castle who are infected. This suggests an outbreak at the royal residence west London, where the queen spends most of her time since the pandemic which ravaged Britain in March 2020.
“Buckingham Palace confirm that the queen has today tested positive for Covid,” the palace said in a statement. “Her Majesty is experiencing mild coldlike symptoms but expects to continue light duties at Windsor over the coming week. She will continue to receive medical attention and will follow all the appropriate guidelines.”
Elizabeth was reunited with Prince Charles, her eldest son, earlier this month. He was later confirmed to have been reinfected and was placed in isolation. He was last to contract the virus in March 2020. Although the palace did not say whether Charles was the cause, officials pointed out that there were many cases at Windsor Castle which suggested she could have been infected from other members of the royal family.
The news of the queen’s illness came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson was poised to relax the remainder of coronavirus restrictions in England, including a requirement to isolate for five days after receiving a positive test. On Monday, Mr. Johnson plans to announce plans to lift regulations by the end February. Some Labour Party members warned that he was acting rashly.
On Sunday, Britain reported 25,696 new cases. This is a rapid decline from the peak in January when the virus was causing more than 200,000 deaths per day. Nearly 1,300 people were admitted to hospitals and 74 people died — statistics that are also on the decline, but at a more moderate pace than cases.
“Now is the moment for everybody to get their confidence back,” Mr. Johnson told the BBC’s “Sunday Morning” show, before the queen’s condition was made public. Hours later, on Twitter, the prime minister said he wished “Her Majesty The Queen a swift recovery from Covid and a rapid return to vibrant good health” — one of a flood of well wishes from across Britain and around the world.
Britons have plenty of experience with Covid-contracted public figures. Charles, 73 was not the only one to test positive. Camilla, his spouse, also tested positive just four days later. Prince William was his elder son. He contracted the virus in early 2020. He only discovered it months later. Mr. Johnson was also struck by Covid and was admitted to an ICU.
Even that alarming episode paled in comparison to the news that Queen Elizabeth, who has ruled over the country for more than 70 years, had contracted a potentially fatal illness.
This is on top of other health concerns regarding Elizabeth. In October, she canceled multiple public appearances, including a solemn anniversary to honor Britain’s wartime dead. She has also developed stiffness in her legs, and has started using a walking stick.
Last Wednesday, the queen appeared fragile during an audience with two high ranking military officers at Windsor Castle. When they asked how she was, the queen, smiling and clutching the stick, gestured to her legs, and said, “Well, as you see, I can’t move.” Neither the queen nor her guests were wearing face masks.
Buckingham Palace went to great lengths to protect Queen Elizabeth from the virus. She returned to Windsor with Prince Philip in 2020, and remained there for over a year. In April 2020, when she addressed the nation in a particularly dark time, she recorded it with just one camera operator.
Elizabeth was vaccinated against the coronavirus in January 2021 at Windsor Castle with Philip. The palace has not confirmed any further vaccine doses but it is widely believed that she received two and a booster. Charles and Camilla both confirmed that they have been fully vaccinated.
Buckingham Palace has been extremely circumspect with details about the queen’s health. After a London tabloid reported it, the palace confirmed that she had been admitted for tests in October. It didn’t state whether she had been tested after Charles was reinfected.
The queen was forced to withdraw herself from the funeral service of Philip, who died at 99 years old last April. A photographer captured a poignant image of her, grieving alone and wearing a mask, in a choir stall at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor.
This image has gained political resonance as Mr. Johnson has been involved in a scandal involving parties in Downing Street that were in violation of lockdown restrictions. Two of the gatherings were on the evening before Philip’s funeral, prompting Mr. Johnson to apologize to the queen.
The circumstances of the queen’s infection remained wreathed in questions. Charles was at Windsor Castle for an investiture ceremony on February 8. He was informed on February 10 that he had been positive for HIV and postponed his trip to Winchester, England.
Similar concerns were expressed about the possibility of Charles’s exposure to the queen after Charles was infected. The prince’s royal household confirmed his positive test on March 25, 2020. He had only met his mother on March 12, just one day before doctors said he might have been infected. A spokesman for the prince said on Sunday that he did not plan to issue a statement on the queen’s condition.
Public health experts stated that the Omicron coronavirus variant, which is the predominant variant in Britain, could be transmitted to the queen. She hosted other visitors, including military officers and a group that celebrated the 70th anniversary her accession to throne.
“Omicron is incredibly infectious — possibly the most infectious disease in recent human history — and it’s therefore unsurprising the queen has also tested positive,” said Devi Sridhar, the head of the global public health program at the University of Edinburgh. The queen’s advanced age, she said, was an added challenge.
Buckingham Palace attempted alleviate Elizabeth’s concerns by issuing a congratulatory message from her to Britain’s women’s curling team, which won a gold medal at the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.
“I know that your local communities and people throughout the United Kingdom will join me in sending our good wishes to you, your coaches, and the friends and family who have supported you in your great success,” she said.
A palace official stated that she had signed off the statement on Sunday morning before her condition became public.
In recent weeks, Elizabeth seemed to be moving on multiple fronts to settle the royal family’s business. Last week, Prince Andrew, her second son, settled an out-of-court sexual assault case against Virginia Giuffre, who claimed that he raped her as a teenager.
The settlement spares the royal family the prospect of Andrew having to testify under oath about his contacts with Ms. Giuffre, which would have cast a long shadow over the queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June.
On the weekend she marked her accession, the queen said in a statement that she hoped that when Charles succeeded her, Camilla would be known as queen consort — an endorsement that the couple had long sought.
“We are deeply conscious of the honor represented by my mother’s wish,” Charles said in a statement. “As we have sought together to serve and support Her Majesty and the people of our communities, my darling wife has been my own steadfast support throughout.”
On Sunday, London was blustery and rainy. People expressed their concern about the queen mixed with hope that she would receive top-notch medical care. It seemed to highlight the fact that the coronavirus does not spare anyone.
“It doesn’t have boundaries,” said Hussein Ahmed, 34, who was waiting for a bus in North London. “It does not give a damn about whether you are the queen or a king or a normal civilian, a person in high power — you are getting it.”
Stephen CastleAnd Megan SpeciaContributed reporting
Source: NY Times