Prince Charles praised the collaboration of the NHS and the military to do the “unthinkable” as he opened the new NHS Nightingale field hospital in East London, via videolink from his home in Scotland.
The prince, who is known as the Duke of Rothesay when he is in Scotland, was shown on a screen next to officials who stood two metres apart from one another to observe social distancing during the event.
It’s thought to be the first time the Duke of Rothesay has ever opened something in England.
Charles dialled in via zoom, the conferencing software which has seen a surge in users since the nation began working from home, while crosses marked the spots for others to stand.
Charles said: “I was enormously touched to have been asked to open the Nightingale hospital as part of a mass mobilisation to withstand the coronavirus crisis.”
He added: “It is without doubt a spectacular and almost unbelievable feat of work in every sense, from its speed of construction – in just nine days as we’ve heard – to its size and the skills of those who have created it.
“An example, if ever one was needed, of how the impossible could be made possible and how we can achieve the unthinkable through human will and ingenuity.”
Speaking about his own experience with coronavirus, which he tested positive for at the end of March, he said he only had a mild case, and said he was pleased to see that Matt Hancock was also well again.
He said: “Now I was one of the lucky ones to have COVID-19 relatively mildly and if I may say so I’m so glad to see the Secretary of State has also recovered, but for some it will be a much harder journey.”
Charles urged: “Let us also pray, ladies and gentlemen, that it will be required for as short a time, and for as few people as possible.”
He went on to say: “I need hardly say that the name of this hospital could not have been more aptly chosen. Florence Nightingale, the Lady with the Lamp, brought hope and healing to thousands in their darkest hour. In this dark time, this place will be a shining light.
“It is symbolic of the selfless care and devoted service taking place in innumerable settings, with countless individuals, throughout the United Kingdom.”
Hancock, the health secretary, said the “extraordinary project” was a “testament to the work and the brilliance of the many people involved”.
Latest coronavirus news, updates and advice
He added: “In these troubled times with this invisible killer stalking the whole world, the fact that in this country we have the NHS is even more valuable than before.”
The plaque unveiled at the NHS Nightingale Hospital London says it was opened by the Prince of Wales on 3 April.
“This plaque is a tribute to the engineers, members of the armed forces, NHS staff, contractors and public volunteers who helped to build this hospital in March 2020,” it says.
Hancock had to self-isolate after he and the prime minister, Boris Johnson, were both confirmed to have contracted the disease.
Johnson is still showing symptoms and so is still in isolation. Nadine Dorries, the first minister to contract the disease, was also at the opening.
Johnson tweeted: “Thank you to everyone involved in building the new NHS Nightingale Hospital over the past fortnight. This immense effort means we will have an extra 4,000 beds to care for #coronavirus patients.”
The NHS Nightingale hospital has been set up in the ExCel conference centre in East London and will initially treat 500 patients, rising to 4,000. It will need about 16,000 staff members to keep it running.
The hospital, the first of several field hospitals to be established around the country, will treat lower risk patients who have COVID-19.
The other hospitals will be constructed in similar venues in Scotland, Wales, Birmingham and Manchester.
On Thursday the UK recorded its highest death toll, as 569 people died after contracting coronavirus.