Queen Elizabeth II has been infected with the coronavirus, Buckingham Palace said on Sunday, becoming one of the world’s most high-profile figures to fight the virus and deeply shaking the country she has ruled for seven decades.
The palace gave few details on the condition of the queen, who turns 96 in April. She is one of many people at Windsor Castle who are infected, a palace official has said, suggesting an outbreak at the royal residence in west London, where the Queen has spent most of her time since the pandemic engulfed Britain in March 2020.
“Buckingham Palace confirms that the Queen tested positive today for Covid,” the palace said in a statement. “Her Majesty is experiencing mild cold symptoms but expects to continue with light duties at Windsor over the coming week. She will continue to receive medical care and follow all appropriate guidelines. »
Elizabeth met her eldest son and heir apparent Prince Charles earlier this month, who was later believed to have been re-infected with the coronavirus and went into self-isolation. He last contracted a mild case of the virus in March 2020. The palace on Sunday did not say whether Charles was the source, but officials pointed to the number of cases at Windsor Castle, suggesting she may have could have been infected by other members of the royal house. .
News of the Queen’s illness came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson was set to ease the rest of England’s coronavirus restrictions, including a requirement to self-isolate for five days after receiving a positive test. Mr Johnson will outline plans on Monday to lift the regulations by the end of February, prompting some members of the opposition Labor Party to warn he was acting recklessly.
Britain reported 25,696 new cases on Sunday, accelerating a decline since the latest wave of the virus peaked in early January with more than 200,000 cases a day. Nearly 1,300 people have been admitted to hospitals and 74 people have died – statistics also down, but at a more moderate rate than cases.
“Now is the time for everyone to get their confidence back,” Mr Johnson told the BBC’s ‘Sunday Morning’ programme, before the Queen’s condition was made public. A few hours later, on Twitter, the Prime Minister said he wished ‘Her Majesty The Queen a speedy recovery from Covid and a speedy return to vibrant good health’ – one of a flood of well wishes from across Britain and around the world.
The British have no shortage of experience with high-profile public figures contracting Covid. In addition to Charles, 73, his wife, Camilla, tested positive four days after him. His eldest son, Prince William, had the virus in early 2020, only revealing it a few months later. Mr Johnson suffered a severe Covid attack around the same time and ended up in an intensive care unit.
Yet even this alarming episode paled next to the news that the Queen, who recently celebrated her 70th birthday on the throne and reigned longer than most Britons live, had contracted a life-threatening illness.
This comes on top of other health issues concerning Elizabeth. In October, she canceled several public appearances, including a solemn anniversary to honor Britain’s wartime dead. She also has stiffness in her legs and has started using a cane.
Last Wednesday, she appeared shaky during an audience with two senior officers at Windsor Castle. When they asked how she was, the Queen, smiling and holding the staff, gestured to her legs and said, “Well, as you see, I can’t move.” Neither the Queen nor her guests wore face masks.
Until recently, Buckingham Palace had made extraordinary efforts to protect the Queen from exposure to the virus. She retired to Windsor in early 2020 with husband Prince Philip and lived in virtual quarantine for over a year. When she addressed the nation during a particularly dark time, in April 2020, she recorded the speech with only one cameraman in the room.
Elizabeth received a dose of a coronavirus vaccine in January 2021 at Windsor Castle, along with Philip. The palace has not confirmed any subsequent vaccine doses, but it is widely believed that she received two, as well as a booster. Charles and Camilla have confirmed that they are fully vaccinated and boosted.
Buckingham Palace has been extremely circumspect with details about the Queen’s health. In October, the Palace confirmed she was only admitted to hospital for tests after a London tabloid reported it. It was unclear whether she was tested for the virus after Charles reinfected this month.
Philip died last April aged 99 and the Queen was forced to self-isolate at his funeral. A photographer has captured a poignant image of her, alone in mourning and wearing a mask, in a choir stall at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor.
That image has taken on political resonance in recent weeks as Mr Johnson has battled a scandal over parties in Downing Street that breached lockdown restrictions. Two of the rallies took place the day before Philip’s funeral, prompting Mr Johnson to apologize to the Queen.
The circumstances of the queen’s infection remained shrouded in questions. Charles was at Windsor Castle on February 8 for an investiture ceremony. He learned he had tested positive on February 10 and postponed a trip to Winchester, England at the last minute.
There were similar concerns about the Queen’s potential exposure the first time Charles was infected. The prince’s royal household confirmed his positive test on March 25, 2020. He had met his mother on March 12, just a day before his doctors assessed he might have been contagious. A spokesman for the prince said on Sunday he did not intend to issue a statement on the Queen’s condition.
Given the transmissibility of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, which is the dominant variant in Britain, public health experts have said the Queen could have caught it from anyone. In addition to military officers, she hosted other visitors, including a group on February 5 that helped mark the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne.
“Omicron is incredibly contagious – perhaps the most infectious disease in recent human history – so it’s no surprise that the queen also tested positive,” said Devi Sridhar, global health program manager. public at the University of Edinburgh. The queen’s advanced age, she said, was an additional challenge.
Buckingham Palace tried to allay concerns about Elizabeth by issuing a congratulatory message from her to the British women’s curling team, which won a gold medal at the Beijing Winter Olympics.
“I know your local communities and people across the UK will join me in sending our best wishes to you, your coaches and the friends and family who have supported you in your great success,” she said.
A palace official said she signed the statement on Sunday morning, before her condition was made public.
In recent weeks, Elizabeth seemed to be moving on several fronts to settle the affairs of the royal family. Last week, her second son, Prince Andrew, reached an out-of-court settlement of a sexual assault case brought against him by Virginia Giuffre, who accused him of raping her when she was a teenager .
The settlement spares the Royal Family the prospect of Andrew having to give evidence 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 the couple had long sought.
“We are deeply aware 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 beloved wife has been my own unwavering support throughout.”
On a windy and rainy day in London on Sunday, people expressed anxiety about the Queen, mixed with hope that she would get top-notch medical attention. Above all, it seemed to drive home the reality that the coronavirus spares no one.
“There are no borders,” said Hussein Ahmed, 34, who was waiting for a bus in north London. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the queen or a king or a normal civilian, a high-ranking person – you get it.”
Stephen’s Castle and Megan Specia contributed report.