The Queen today urged Britain to come together amid the coronavirus crisis and assured the country that the Royal Family is ready to ‘play its part’ in beating the deadly infection.
The 93-year-old monarch was seen leaving Buckingham Palace with her faithful corgi-dachshund mix Candy on her lap as she headed to Windsor Castle for her Easter break a week earlier than planned.
The Queen was joined at Windsor by her husband Prince Philip, 98, who travelled by helicopter from his home of Wood Farm at Sandringham in Norfolk, amid an anticipated lockdown of London.
In today’s message, she praised medical workers, scientists and the emergency and public services who are fighting the pandemic, and stressed everyone has a ‘vitally important part to play as individuals’ – today and in the coming months.
‘Many of us will need to find new ways of staying in touch with each other and making sure that loved ones are safe. I am certain we are up to that challenge,’ she said. ‘You can be assured that my family and I stand ready to play our part.’
On another day of dramatic developments in the fight against the fast-spreading virus as latest figures revealed that a further 29 people who tested positive had died in England, taking the UK total to 137:
- Boris Johnson said the Government stood ready to take further action in London if people did not follow his advice on social distancing, although he ruled out closing down public transport.
- Mr Johnson also said UK scientists expect to start trials for the first vaccine within a month, as he thanked the public for the ‘huge efforts’ they have taken in complying with the advice for the battle against the virus.
- The Bank of England cut interest rates to 0.1 per cent and unleashed another £200billion to boost the economy in its second emergency move in just over a week
- The Department of Health and Social Care announced that £2.9billion of emergency coronavirus funding would be made available to councils to free up at least 15,000 hospital beds.
- The Archbishop of Canterbury will lead a virtual service on Sunday, which will be broadcast on all BBC local radio stations.
- The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said everyone must now follow the advice for social distancing, and socialising in pubs and clubs must stop.
Earlier today royal experts suggested Prince William could step in to cover the Queen’s commitments in a crisis plan – due to second-in-line Prince Charles also being over 70 and potentially facing four months in self-isolation.
Her Majesty glanced out of the window next to the corgi-dachshund mix, who is called Candy, as she sat in the back of her official car for the 50-minute journey to Berkshire.
Reports say the Duke of Edinburgh joined her a week early to match her revised schedule, as she waits out the crisis away from London, where tighter restrictions are expected within as it is the centre of the outbreak.
The Queen attended her last engagement in London yesterday, a private audience with two senior officers from the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Yesterday, she greeted Captain Angus Essenhigh, the new Commanding Officer of the Royal Navy warship HMS Queen Elizabeth, and his predecessor Commodore Steven Moorhouse.
There were no handshakes, just bows from the captain and the commodore, as they met and chatted with the monarch in the private audience room of the Queen’s London home.
ITV’s royal editor Chris Ship took to Twitter this afternoon explaining Philip had travelled by helicopter from Wood Farm in Sandringham to Windsor to be with the Queen for Easter.
‘He had always planned to be with her and was moved to Windsor a week earlier to match the Queen’s revised schedule,’ he wrote. ‘She arrived there this afternoon.’
The Duke of Edinburgh was last pictured in January being driven onto the Royal Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, where the Queen spends her winter break, for a shoot.
Prince Philip remained in Sandringham while recuperating from a four-day stay in hospital in London over the festive period, where he was treated for a pre-existing medical condition.
He had been admitted to King Edward VII Hospital for a few days as a precautionary measure, and for observation, after a period of poor health which saw him battling a ‘flu-like’ illness for weeks and suffering a ‘bad fall’.
Earlier today royal experts told MailOnline that Prince William could soon take a more senior role in the Royal Family during the coronavirus pandemic, should the Queen and Prince Charles have to go into isolation.
This week Health Secretary Matt Hancock said people over the age of 70 will be told to self-isolate, even if they do not have symptoms, in a bid to stem the spread of the disease and protect the most vulnerable in society.
Given the Prince of Wales, 71, and Her Majesty, 93, are within this age group, as third-in-line to the throne the Duke of Cambridge may be required to provide a ‘physical presence’ of the monarchy.
Nigel Cawthorne, author of Call Me Diana: Princess Diana on Herself, told FEMAIL: ‘It is entirely sensible for Prince William to act as placeholder for the Queen. There has to be a physical presence to the monarchy, not just a virtual one.
‘He’s third-in-line to the throne and in robust health like his brother, and COVID-19 is unlikely to be any serious threat for him or his wife or children. He will do a great job.’
Royal commentator Robert Jobson also told FEMAIL it is the ‘natural thing to happen’ for the Duke of Cambridge to act as placeholder for his grandmother.
And Grant Harrold, who was a royal butler between 2004 and 2011, explained: ‘It is possible that if the Queen and the Prince of Wales are in isolation, then Prince William as second-in-line would take a more active role during this period.’
‘I am sure he would come back and be delighted to help out, too, and do anything to protect his father and grandmother,’ he said.
Mr Cawthorne acknowledged that it is unlikely there are any social gatherings left on the court calendar where Prince William would need to step in, as the Queen has scaled back her events due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
However, he added, there are ‘classified informal meetings on matters of state, and the monarchy is an enormous machine with many employees staying in touch with people, cities and charities across Britain and the world’.
Nigel continued: ‘Some of these will be routed through secure communications. But this creates a risk of sorts and some of them will just require face-to-face meetings where Prince William can decide what is so essential that it needs to be managed up to the Queen or to his father.
‘The organisation supporting the monarchy can’t just stop. It would create an enormous backlog. Nor can a courtier stand in for the monarch and make all the decisions that are required to be made.
‘Also, the government will always want the head of state or a representative to be available when dealing with visiting foreign or diplomatic dignitaries. It always helps as the history of the British Royal Family is unparalleled.’
It is also possible that Princess Beatrice, who is ninth-in-line to the throne, may be appointed a Counsellor of State during these uncertain times, while Prince Harry – who is officially no longer a working royal from March 31 – may also step in to provide assistance, according to experts.
If the Queen is temporarily unable to perform her constitutional duties, normally there are five Counsellors of State available to fill in for her – Prince Philip, 98, Prince Charles, Prince William, 37, Prince Harry, 35, and Prince Andrew, 60.
Counsellors of State are made up of the consort of The Queen and the first four people in the line of succession who meet the qualifications – one of which is having reached the age of 21, which rules out Prince George, Princess Charlotte, Prince Louis and Archie Mountbatten-Windsor.
However, the unprecedented impact of the coronavirus may cause the Regency Act 1937 to come under immense pressure to create a sixth Counsellor, reports Royal Central.
At any one time, two or more Counsellors of State must be presiding at any one time – which could be problematic when the self-isolation rules regarding the over 70s comes into force.
The Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles would both have to be quarantined, while Prince Harry and Prince Andrew are no longer working royals – though that is not a requirement for the role of Counsellor of State.
The Queen’s garden parties at Buckingham Palace have also been called off and the Palace of Holyroodhouse garden party in Edinburgh, which takes place in July, is under review.
The monarch will be based at her favourite home in Windsor with a reduced household and will be following appropriate advice, a source said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called on all people in the UK, particularly the over 70s, to avoid all non-essential contact and travel as part of unprecedented peacetime measures aimed at trying to control the spread of COVID-19.
Elizabeth II, the nation’s longest reigning monarch, is due to celebrate her 94th birthday next month, and the risk of more severe symptoms from the coronavirus is greater for the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions.
Investitures will be rearranged and the annual Maundy Service at St George’s Chapel has been cancelled, the palace said. Future audiences will be reviewed on an ongoing basis, the palace said.
She is not the only royal affected by the Government’s new advice. Heir to the throne the Prince of Wales is 71 and the Duchess of Cornwall is 72.
Other working royals include the Queen’s cousins the Duke of Gloucester, 75, the Duke of Kent, 84, and Princess Alexandra, 83.
The palace said further announcements would be made on Trooping the Colour, the 75th anniversary of VE Day and a state visit by the Emperor and Empress of Japan, in consultation with the Government.
Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masakois are due to stay with the Queen at Windsor Castle in May and be feted with a ceremonial welcome and a grand state banquet, but the high-profile occasion is expected to be postponed.
The palace said in a statement: ‘As a sensible precaution and for practical reasons in the current circumstances, a number of changes are being made to the Queen’s diary.
‘Her Majesty will move to Windsor Castle for the Easter period on Thursday 19 March, one week earlier than planned. It is likely the Queen will stay there beyond the Easter period.
‘In consultation with the Medical Household and Government, a number of public events with large numbers of people due to have been attended by the Queen, and other members of the royal family, in the coming months will be cancelled or postponed.’
The Easter period is expected to be a quiet one for the monarch, as is usual, a source said.
Each year, the Queen takes up official residence in Windsor for a month over Easter between March and April, known as Easter Court.
The Queen also usually hosts a Dine and Sleep event during her stay when guests are given a bed for the night in the castle, but this will undoubtedly not take place.
Famous guests in the past have included director Tim Burton, actress Helena Bonham Carter, Bond star Daniel Craig and actress Rachel Weisz.
On Friday, Her Majesty’s upcoming visits to Cheshire and Camden were postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this month the Queen is reported to have vowed not to let the outbreak stop her from performing her duties and to set an example by ‘keeping calm and carrying on’ until there is ‘compelling advice to the contrary’.
London has THREE TIMES more coronavirus cases than any other region in the UK
More than 900 cases have already been confirmed in the capital, with the boroughs of Southwark, Westminster and Lambeth the worst affected.
In comparison, fewer than 300 people have been struck down in the second worst hit region, the South East.
London makes up more than a third of the UK’s infection toll, which has already seen 2,626 cases confirmed by health officials.
It comes as Boris Johnson today said the capital – home to almost 9million people – will not face being locked down this week, after fears had been growing that travel around and in or out of the city would be stopped.
Despite London being the epicentre of the UK’s escalating crisis, the worst affected single authority in England is Hampshire.
On Saturday, a building in Windsor Great Park was closed for a deep clean after three people showed symptoms similar to those of COVID-19. The Savill Building was closed over the weekend for the clean to take place.
A statement on the park’s website said: ‘As a precautionary measure we have taken the decision to close The Savill Building over the weekend to conduct a deep clean of the premises, after becoming aware of three individuals, who are showing symptoms similar to those of COVID-19, having been on site.
‘Whilst these are not confirmed cases we feel that this is a prudent step that prioritises the health and wellbeing of our employees and visitors.
‘We continue to monitor the situation and Government’s public health guidance closely. The rest of Windsor Great Park remains open as usual.’
The Queen was due to visit the Bentley Motors Factory in Crewe, and the Jodrell Bank Observatory and Square Kilometre Array Global Headquarters in Macclesfield on March 19. She was also due to visit Camden on March 26, but full details of the trip had not yet been released.
Charles and Camilla had been due to start their spring tour to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus and Jordan on March 17. It would have marked the first time a royal has visited Cyprus since the Queen in 1993.
A spokesman for the Queen said: ‘As a sensible precaution and for practical reasons in the current circumstances, changes are being made to The Queen’s diary commitments in the coming weeks.
‘In consultation with the Medical Household and Government, Her Majesty’s forthcoming visits to Cheshire and Camden will be rescheduled.
‘Audiences will continue as usual. Other events will be reviewed on an ongoing basis in line with the appropriate advice.’
SOURCE: Daily Mail, by Rory Tingle, Mark Duell and Hayley Richardson