The news that the Prince of Wales has tested positive for Covid-19 proves that coronavirus knows no barriers, physical or social. It doesn’t stop at the gates of Buckingham Palace or spare the next in line to the British throne.
First Hollywood royalty Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson succumbed to the virus in Australia, having to isolate and follow protocol like any other normal person, then James Bond-hopeful Idris Elba got the diagnosis, followed by Prince Albert of Monaco and a coterie of other celebrities who are normally immune, as it were, to global catastrophes.
But coronavirus is different. It doesn’t care for status or crowns. It can take down royalty as easily as it can take down roofers. Except the former will get a test much sooner than the latter.
Prince Charles, who as a septuagenarian is within the higher risk category, is residing in isolation at Birkhall on the Queen’s Balmoral estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, having ignored edicts to stay at home, or in his case, homes, in England. He was tested on March 23 after qualifying for an NHS test “due to age and medical condition criteria.” He received his positive results the next day. His wife, Camila, tested negative for the virus and is isolating separately.
Obviously Prince Charles will get a test- as heir to the throne, but his diagnosis highlights that tests are extremely hard to obtain, and people have been turned away from accessing medical assistance unless they are so ill they have to be admitted to hospital.
Currently, only around 8,000 tests a day are being performed, and only on the sickest patients in hospital. No one else can get their hands on them – including front-line health workers.
The government has promised to increase these to 25,000 a day, once 3.5 million antibody ‘game changer’ tests that the government has purchased for the NHS arrive, which will tell you if you’re immune to the virus, or have had it, but they will take time – weeks, even – and people need them desperately now.
The priority that the royals have been given has caused anger. One Scottish politician, Joan McAlpine, tweeted: “I wish @Charles_HRH a speedy recovery. But given that his symptoms are said to be mild, like many I wonder how he was tested when many NHS and social care workers cannot get tested. My nephew, who has serious asthma and a chest infection was recently refused a test.”
It seems like only yesterday that we were enjoying Charles’s “Namaste” greetings outside the Commonwealth Service in Westminster on March 12, as he, like many of us, took a little while to get used to the “no hand touching” protocol. How times have changed. Since then, the innocence has died as the rampant pandemic has taken hold.
Unlike other mortals, those tracing the Prince’s contacts would have a long list of important people to call – most notably the Queen, who, aged 93, apparently last saw Charles on March 12, the day before he apparently became contagious. According to Buckingham Palace, Her Majesty “remains in good health,” saying she was “following all the appropriate advice with regard to her welfare.”
The Queen wouldn’t want to let the side down. A snowflake, she ain’t.
Clarence House said in a statement that the Prince of Wales had been “displaying mild symptoms” but otherwise “remains in good health and has been working from home throughout the last few days as usual.”
This standard stiff upper lip may be admirable and reassuring, but the British public is taking a mixed view on his diagnosis. As custodians of castles and residences across the British Isles, the royals can choose where to convalesce. But choosing to flee to self-isolate in Scotland’s Balmoral did not please all: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, got petty, scolding Prince Charles for flouting her government’s advice to not escape to her country.
Everyone else, the non-royals, have to stay put, wait and wait for testing, and can’t get masks or hand sanitiser or paracetamol for love or money. And if they do succumb to Covid-19, will potentially be housed in a makeshift hospital, like the one being built at the ExCel exhibition centre in London, which is being set up to treat up to 4,000 people.
None of their fellow bedmates will be a member of the royal family. Prince Charles was tested swiftly and comfortably, despite not showing severe symptoms. Yet doctors and NHS workers haven’t been tested, risking infecting patients and their families.
Filmmaker Peter Stefanovic said on Twitter; “The Prince’s test was carried out by the NHS in Aberdeenshire. Can NHS staff and social care workers in Aberdeenshire confirm that they are now being tested?”
Comedian John Cleese tweeted his sympathy: “I’m sorry Prince Charles has the coronavirus, but his symptoms are mild, perhaps he has found the right solution. I hope he recovers rapidly.”
Large swathes of the UK’s population will be spending the next few weeks confined to small apartments, with limited access to the outside world or medical assistance. Nurses, doctors and other workers will be trying to navigate their way around the Tube system and public transport while trying to maintain a safe social distance.
Meanwhile, Prince Charles can self-isolate on the Balmoral estate, safe in the knowledge that medical and home staff are on hand should help be required.
But maybe such is our life, and our death. The royals pay a high price for their privileges; every inch of their lives is under the microscope and perpetual critique and scrutiny.
Perhaps the fact that Prince Charles isn’t immune to the virus will act as a comfort to people: in the sense that, if he has it and can get on with things, so can we all. People in the UK thought the virus wasn’t their problem. They thought it was everyone else’s. Now it is.
He’s put a face on Covid 19 he will save lives by making people stay at home, even when, ironically, he hasn’t.