The scene tugged on heartstrings worldwide, with scores of people saying they could relate to the monarch’s lone moment of mourning — which seemed to symbolize what families worldwide have had to face since the pandemic began: grieving without the touch or closeness of anyone else to ease the pain.
Currently in England, 30 mourners can attend a funeral and those not living in the same household or support bubble must stay two meters apart. Ahead of the service Saturday, the royal family said that those in attendance would comply with current government rules.
The photo of the 94-year-old dressed in black and sitting alone in a pew came paradoxically as England’s pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, gyms, nonessential shops and theme parks reopened to the public following three national lockdowns. It was a stark contrast to images and videos circulating on social media that showed venues bustling with crowds and people outdoors enjoying food and drink together after almost 100 days of closure.
On social media, some critics questioned how people were able to get a haircut, go to the gym or have a manicure but not sit next to a vulnerable family member — especially if they, like the queen, had been fully vaccinated ahead of an important event.
“Can someone please explain to me why we have pubs and restaurants open and hundreds of people getting drunk without a mask, but funerals still have Covid restrictions?” read one tweet. “Packed pubs in the high street, restrictions at funerals. These Covid rules are a mess, inhuman and contain no fairness. Even those vaccinated can’t sit together, where are the incentives?” read another.
Both the queen and Prince Philip had their first coronavirus vaccine doses in January, with the monarch saying the jab was over with quickly and “didn’t hurt at all.” The queen received her second dose of the vaccine in March before she attended her first royal engagement since late last year.
From celebrities to TV hosts to members of the public, the same question keeps cropping up: If cases are falling because of widespread testing and a vaccine rollout hailed as a success by the government, why can’t funeral rules be changed?
“Should we ease funeral restrictions?” asked television program “Good Morning Britain” on Monday as hosts of the show spoke with Craig Bicknell, a man who was asked by crematorium staff to move as he attempted to comfort his mother at his stepfather’s funeral in October last year.
Along with his brother, Bicknell had moved his chair closer to his mother’s so he could be near her — but was told to return his chair to its original position and comply with covid-19 regulations.
The video went viral and sparked widespread outrage. Bicknell said his mother was “lost,” adding: “When I saw my mum break as she did, it just took over that I had to comfort her and put my arm around her.” The venue later admitted it should have taken “a more considered approach” when dealing with the situation.
Speaking out on Monday, Bicknell said “a lot had changed” in the country since that moment — Britain’s vaccine rollout has been largely successful, with recent government figures indicating more than 32 million people across the country have received their first dose of the vaccine. Daily death tolls are at their lowest point since September, and testing is widely available to people of all ages.
“Why can’t we change the rules?” Bicknell asked, adding that while he understood he had broken the rules at the time, the country’s handling of the health crisis had improved hugely since the time of his stepfather’s passing.
The controversy comes as crowds returned to London’s Wembley Stadium Sunday to watch a soccer match between Leicester and Southampton. A scaled-back crowd of 4,000 people wearing face masks watched live in the stands after presenting officials with negative coronavirus test results on entry. The stadium holds up to 90,000.
Earlier this month, the government announced a pilot event plan that it hopes will pave the way for large audiences to return to sporting events and outdoor concerts this summer.
“The return of spectators to music gigs & sporting events is a moment we are all looking forward to,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Monday. “These pilots will inform our approach to ensuring future big events can take place safely.”
British media reported Monday that about 2.7 million people had returned to the nation’s pubs over the weekend, while the total spent in nonessential shops, restaurants and other newly opened establishment tallied up to 3 million pounds. ($4.1 million).