Prince Charles Tests Positive for Coronavirus

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LONDON — Prince Charles, the eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II and the heir to the British throne, has contracted the coronavirus, Buckingham Palace said on Wednesday, adding that he had been suffering from mild symptoms since last weekend.

Medical advisers said that Charles was otherwise in good health and that they did not expect the virus to develop into a more serious illness, according to an official at the palace. But Charles, who is 71, met with the queen on March 12 — only a day before the advisers said it was possible that he became infectious with the virus.

The prince’s illness, and his potential exposure to the queen and other members of the royal family, rattled an already nervous Britain, which has seen the number of cases and deaths accelerate rapidly over the last few days, prompting Prime Minister Boris Johnson to put the country into a virtual lockdown.

Buckingham Palace said the queen, who turns 94 next month, “remains in good health.” She sequestered herself in Windsor Castle last week with her husband, Prince Philip, who is 98, saying that she and her family would follow the social distancing guidelines set out by the government.

Charles, also known as the Prince of Wales, was tested by the National Health Service in Scotland on Monday, according to a palace official. He received a positive result the next day and is recuperating at Birkhall, a cottage on the grounds of Balmoral, the queen’s Scottish residence. He is isolated from his wife and the staff, the official said.

“He has been displaying mild symptoms but otherwise remains in good health and has been working from home throughout the last few days as usual,” the palace said in a statement. It added that his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, “has also been tested but does not have the virus.”

The description of Charles’s symptoms as mild raised questions about whether he was granted preferential treatment in being tested for the virus. The guidelines for the National Health Service in Scotland say that people will generally be tested only “if you have a serious illness that requires admission to the hospital.” The palace said Charles and his wife “met the criteria required for testing.”

The sharp restrictions on testing have become a charged issue in Britain, with medical experts warning that unless it is ramped up quickly, the country will squander the advantages of the 21-day lockdown now in place. Britain had reported 8,077 cases of the virus and 422 deaths as of Wednesday afternoon.

The timing of the prince’s meetings with other family members, especially the queen, is also likely to draw scrutiny. On March 10, Charles sat across a table from Prince Albert II of Monaco, who nine days later tested positive for the coronavirus. On March 12, officials said Charles had his last meeting with Queen Elizabeth after an investiture ceremony.

Medical advisers, they said, estimated that the earliest date the prince could have been infectious was the day after that, March 13, though it was not clear how they had arrived at that assessment. The palace declined to identify the members of Charles’s medical team or to discuss his prognosis in detail.

The incubation period for the coronavirus varies by patient, according to the World Health Organization, with most people showing symptoms about five days from the date they were infected. But it can incubate for as long as 14 days, which, given when Charles began showing symptoms, would be before he met with his mother.

“It is not possible to ascertain from whom the prince caught the virus owing to the high number of engagements he carried out in his public role during recent weeks,” the palace said in its statement.

In addition to public meetings, officials said Charles had been in contact with employees of the Duchy of Cornwall, his hereditary estate, and staff members at Highgrove House, his country residence in Gloucestershire. After suspending his public schedule on March 12, an official said, Charles stayed at Highgrove until Sunday, when he traveled to the more remote Birkhall.

The prince’s decision to travel even after experiencing symptoms, which the government has strongly discouraged, also raised questions. Officials at the palace said the symptoms were not pronounced enough to cancel his plans, and that Charles decided to go after consulting his medical team.

On March 16, the government advised people over age 70 to avoid nonessential social contact for 12 weeks. A few days later, the queen canceled her schedule and left Buckingham Palace for Windsor, where officials said she would be exposed to fewer people. She was joined there by Philip, who lives in retirement on the grounds of another royal house, Sandringham.

Britain’s royal family was last seen together on March 9, when they gathered for a service in Westminster Abbey to honor the British Commonwealth. It was a bittersweet occasion — the final formal appearance of Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, who have withdrawn from royal duties and relocated to Canada.

The bitter negotiations between the couple and Buckingham Palace over their future plunged the royal family into its deepest crisis since the death of Prince Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, in 1997. Adding to that was the furor over Prince Andrew, the queen’s second-born son, whose dealings with the disgraced billionaire Jeffrey Epstein spilled back into the open in recent months.

Charles has been in touch in recent days with his elder son, Prince William, as well as with both Harry and the queen, the palace said.

William, who is next in line to the throne after his father, made a surprise visit along with his wife, Kate, last Friday to a call center in London, where the National Health Service responds to people reporting symptoms of coronavirus. He has now moved to a cottage on the grounds of Sandringham — effectively scattering the royal family’s senior members throughout Britain.

Despite having to drop out of sight, the queen has tried to play her historic role as a calming figure during times of crisis. Last week, she issued a statement calling on the country to pull together by keeping apart.

“We are all being advised to change our normal routines and regular patterns of life for the greater good of the communities we live in and, in particular, to protect the most vulnerable within them,” she said.

“Many of us will need to find new ways of staying in touch with each other and making sure that loved ones are safe,” the queen added. “You can be assured that my family and I stand ready to play our part.”

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