Queen Elizabeth's illness spurs outpouring of support and concern

Queen Elizabeth II, who is 95 years old, marked the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne this month. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (NYTIMES) - By Sunday afternoon (Feb 20), the news that Queen Elizabeth II had contracted the coronavirus had filtered through London, with news alerts on phones bringing the information to many going about their weekend business.

But as members of the public and political leaders reacted, many were quick to reflect about how the news came as the British government plans to roll back the last remaining Covid-19 restrictions.

A number of people said the Queen's illness had driven home just how susceptible the broader population was to the virus.

"It doesn't have boundaries, that's what it is telling us," said Mr 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."

Ms Gail Smith, who was walking with her friend in blustery rain in north London, said they had seen the news and were sad and concerned for the Queen. But, they added, they were not surprised to see that the coronavirus had reached royal circles because there were still so many people becoming infected in London and across the rest of Britain.

"She must be the most protected high-profile person, and she's elderly," Ms Smith said. "And she is generally quite a healthy person, but it shows how difficult it is to protect people from this."

A wave of encouragement and support from across the nation and further afield erupted on social media on Sunday after Buckingham Palace announced the news, with politicians and commentators weighing in.

"I'm sure I speak for everyone in wishing Her Majesty The Queen a swift recovery from Covid-19 and a rapid return to vibrant good health," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter.

Other members of the government also expressed support, including Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who wrote on Twitter that he wished the Queen "a quick recovery".

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak also wished her "a speedy recovery" in his post, while Home Secretary Priti Patel added "God save the Queen" at the end of her tweet.

Members of the opposition Labour Party also expressed their support via social media.

"Get well soon, Ma'am," Mr Keir Starmer, the party's leader, wrote on Twitter.

The 95-year-old Queen, Britain's longest-serving monarch, marked the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne this month.

It was not lost on many that her infection came as the government was preparing to scrap the last Covid-19 restrictions and considering how people could learn to live with the virus.

"24 hours before #BorisJohnson announces end of Covid-19 restrictions, Queen confirmed to have virus," Mr Andrew Pierce, a political commentator with tabloid The Daily Mail,  wrote on Twitter. "Will he now change his mind?"

The timing of the Queen's positive test was also front of mind for many on the streets of London on Sunday as they braved a gusty and windy morning.

Mr Matt Treadwell, 47, who works in mental health for the National Health Service, said it was a further signal that the pandemic was not yet over.

"It's not a great thing for a 90-something-year-old lady to have, so I guess we are sort of wondering about how serious it is going to be," Mr Treadwell said of the Queen.

But he was quick to reflect on the government's shift in tone around the virus at what is still a critical time.

"The fact that no other country in the world is doing this at this time, as far as I can tell, does not fill me with enormous confidence," he said. "It's a political decision."

Others pointed out that the coronavirus infection was the latest of an already long series of difficulties that the Queen had faced not even two months into the year, including the settlement of a sexual abuse lawsuit by her son Prince Andrew; an inquiry into a charity run by her eldest son, Prince Charles; and Prince Charles' own positive virus test.

"What more can this year throw at Her Majesty?" asked Mr Paul Brand, editor for Britain for the ITV News channel.

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