The Queen and Covid: How her life changed during the pandemic

·6-min read

The Queen served as a symbol of national stability during the pandemic, delivering two rare televised addresses to a shell-shocked nation just weeks apart.

She reassured the country that the virus would be overcome, telling those in isolation: “We will meet again.”

But even the nation’s longest reigning monarch acknowledged: “While we have faced challenges before, this one is different.”

The Queen’s words and image from her televised address are displayed in Piccadilly Circus in 2020 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

It was a time which saw the Queen reunited with the Duke of Edinburgh in a lockdown bubble, but also later grieving the loss of him when he died a few weeks after heart surgery while the virus was still wreaking havoc across the country.

She sat alone and masked at his funeral, when Covid restrictions meant only 30 people could attend the Windsor service.

The Queen, who was jabbed and boosted with the vaccine, finally caught Covid in February 2022 – after months of orders to rest and mobility problems.

In March 2020 she had relocated to Windsor Castle from London, while Philip flew in from the Sandringham estate, just ahead of the first restriction on movements.

Queen leaves London
The Queen leaves Buckingham Palace for Windsor Castle ahead of the first lockdown (Aaron Chown/PA)

The duke had been occupying himself by painting, writing and reading in his retirement, mostly at his Norfolk cottage, Wood Farm.

Lockdown meant they spent more time under the same roof together than they had done in many years.

Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty magazine, told the PA news agency it was “an opportunity for them in their later years to reconnect” and the “perfect royal cocooning”.

The couple were attended to by a reduced household of about 20 staff – dubbed HMS Bubble.

Duke of Edinburgh
The Queen and Philip ahead of the duke’s 99th birthday in 2020 (Steve Parson/PA)

The Queen’s loyal personal assistant and senior dresser Angela Kelly had to turn her hand to setting and cutting her hair, admitting she needed a stiff drink while the Queen was under the dryer.

Ms Kelly said the Queen’s corgi puppies, Muick and Sandy, brought her “constant joy” during lockdown, alongside her elderly dorgi Candy.

The Queen’s duties changed in an unprecedented way as she switched to video calls and online appearances.

Investitures, state visits and day trips were put on hold and annual favourites such as the traditional Trooping the Colour, the Order of the Garter ceremony and Buckingham Palace garden parties were deemed unsafe.

The Queen spoke to the nation about the pandemic on April 5 2020 – delivering a special address in recognition of the national crisis.

VE Day 75th Anniversary
The Queen’s televised address to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day in May 2020 (Sophie Hogan/PA)

In another televised delivery to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day just five weeks later, she described how the message at the end of the war in Europe was “never give up, never despair”.

The royal family stayed at their separate homes, and there were occasional engagements for the Queen when restrictions were intermittently relaxed.

She knighted fundraiser Captain Sir Tom Moore and celebrated her official birthday by watching a military parade in 2020, while Philip stepped out of retirement to carry out a rare public engagement as he handed over his role as colonel-in-chief of The Rifles.

The Queen and the duke also attend a family celebration in person – granddaughter Princess Beatrice’s private lockdown wedding to property tycoon Edo Mapelli Mozzi held in a small church in the grounds of Royal Lodge, Windsor.

The summer was still enjoyed at Balmoral, and the Queen was finally pictured in a mask in November 2020 when she visited the grave of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey to mark the centenary of the serviceman’s burial.

The Queen and Philip spent Christmas that year on their own, away from family, as virus cases began to rise steeply again.

In her Christmas Day broadcast, the Queen praised the “indomitable spirit” of those who had risen “magnificently” to the challenges of the pandemic.

On January 9 2021, Buckingham Palace took the unusual step of announcing that the Queen and Philip had received their Covid-19 vaccinations, administered by a doctor at the castle.

Then on February 16, Philip was admitted to hospital as a precaution after feeling unwell.

He had heart surgery and returned to Windsor, but died on April 9 2021.

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The Queen alone after taking her seat for the funeral of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Philip’s pared-back funeral saw the Queen sitting socially distanced from her loved ones as she mourned her husband of 73 years.

The Queen described it as a “period of great sadness” but said she was “deeply touched” by the tributes paid to Philip and the support and kindness shown to her family.

She continued with her duties as head of state, and within weeks appeared in public for the State Opening of Parliament and at the Royal Windsor Horse Show.

But she was grieving for the loss of her loyal consort against a backdrop of family drama – the Sussexes’ Oprah interview and later the Duke of York’s civil sexual assault case.

In the autumn, there was heightened concern for the Queen’s health.

After a busy run of engagements at the age of 95, she was secretly admitted to hospital in October 2021 for an overnight stay for preliminary investigations, despite assurances from Buckingham Palace that she was resting at Windsor.

She cancelled a run of major engagements, including a trip to Northern Ireland and attending the Cop26 summit, and also the Remembrance Sunday service because of a sprained back.

The Queen's programme of engagements
The Queen conducting engagements on screen – the lasting legacy of the pandemic (Victoria Jones/PA)

She was ordered by doctors to take it easy and spent months only carrying out light duties within the confines of Windsor.

Her Platinum Jubilee in February 2022 saw a rare public appearance at a Sandringham House reception, and her Jubilee message endorsed the Duchess of Cornwall as a future Queen.

During one in-person audience at Windsor, she admitted “Well, as you can see, I can’t move.”

She caught Covid just days later, admitted it left her “very tired and exhausted” but recovered and appeared bright-eyed during online engagements.

The pandemic reinforced the Queen’s position as a symbol of steadfastness during times of crisis and, with the royal family following the rules, a figure of integrity.

But the passing of time and the embracing of virtual appearances created a monarchy in transition, emerging the other side with a head of state mostly seen on screen in the comfort of her castle.