The prince, who is second in line to the British throne, was photographed walking with his wife and their three children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, at the queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk. The family was also joined by Prince Edward; his wife, Sophie; and their two children.
Norfolk, a county on the east coast of England, is under Tier 2 rules, meaning that only groups of up to six can meet outdoors if they are not from the same household, under the high-alert regulations in place to slow the spread of the virus.
“This limit of 6 includes children of any age,” reads guidance on the official government website.
Sandringham sources defended the two families, telling British tabloids that the households arrived and left the Christmas walk separately, although they admitted that social distancing between the relatives was difficult at times.
“As anyone with young children will know, there were moments on the 90-minute walk where it was difficult to keep the two family groups apart, particularly at bottlenecks on the trail,” they said, according to the Mail.
Chris Ship, royal editor for ITV News, said that criticism of the two families highlights “how careful you have to be when you’re in the public eye” — especially when there are rules to protect public health in place.
The backlash comes as more than 40 countries swiftly closed their borders to people traveling from Britain after an outbreak of a variant of the virus that officials believe originated in England.
This is not the first time members of the royal family have been accused of breaching coronavirus restrictions amid a pandemic that has claimed at least 67,718 lives in the United Kingdom.
Earlier this month, William and Kate were accused of breaching coronavirus measures as they embarked on a royal train tour of the U.K., in a bid to show their appreciation and thank front-line workers for their efforts to save lives and help communities ravaged by the virus.
At the time of their visit, travel was banned between Scotland and England unless there was a valid reason such as work commitments.
After backlash on social media and what the British media deemed a “lukewarm reception,” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested that the royal couple were made aware of the travel ban in place before they left England.
Royal sources stressed that the trip was indeed a working visit and therefore would be exempt from restrictions laid out by the government, the Guardian reported.
Also this month, Princess Beatrice, who is cousin to Prince William and granddaughter to Queen Elizabeth II, was accused of breaking lockdown rules after British media reported that she attended a dinner in a London restaurant alongside her husband, Edoardo Mozzi, and a group of friends from at least one other household.
Under the restrictions in place at the time, people in England were only allowed to eat inside with members of their own household or social bubble.
One diner at the venue told the Sun that the royal, who is ninth in line to the throne, should “be setting a better example,” adding, “If the royal family can’t get coronavirus rules right, what hope for the rest of us?”
With Christmas just days away and the country divided into tiers, millions were forced to change plans or now face spending Christmas alone, with those in Tier 4, which includes London, forbidden from spending time indoors with anyone outside of their own household or social bubble over the holiday period.