Coronavirus Halts Another U.K. Ritual: Birthday Gun Salute for Queen


LONDON — When Queen Elizabeth II turns 94 on Tuesday, for the first time in her nearly seven-decade reign her birthday will not be marked by a gun salute — another longstanding ritual lost to the grim siege of the coronavirus.

The queen requested that “no special measures be put in place” for artillery guns to be fired from multiple sites around London, according to Buckingham Palace, because she did not “feel it appropriate in the current circumstances.” She also instructed that flags should not be flown in her honor unless it could be done while observing social distancing restrictions.

Buckingham Palace said the queen, who has sequestered herself at Windsor Castle since mid-March, did not plan to mark her birthday “in any special way.” She might speak to members of the royal family, who are scattered across the country, by video call, a palace official said, but the conversations would be private.

The palace had already scrapped the queen’s birthday parade, known as Trooping the Color. That elaborate military procession is traditionally held in June and draws thousands of spectators to the wide avenue in front of the palace, where she waves from the balcony, as fighter jets roar overhead.

The queen has managed to be at once conspicuously absent and reassuringly visible during the pandemic. She left London abruptly on March 19, four days before Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a lockdown on the country, and has been living in isolation at Windsor since then.

But she delivered a rare televised address on April 5 to rally Britons for the national struggle against the virus. Drawing on her own experience as a young princess during World War II, the queen appealed to the country to show solidarity and stoicism — not by drawing together but by staying apart.

“We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return,” the queen said. “We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”

That last line alluded to “We’ll Meet Again,” a 1939 song popularized by Vera Lynn that became a wartime favorite in Britain. The address carried a distinct echo of the famous speech the queen’s father, George VI, gave on the brink of the war, lending it emotional resonance in a country where the virus has killed more than 14,000 people and threatened the political establishment.

Less than an hour after the queen spoke earlier this month, the government announced that Mr. Johnson had been hospitalized with the virus. He spent three nights in intensive care and is now recuperating at Chequers, the country residence of British prime ministers. Several of Mr. Johnson’s senior aides were also infected.

Fears for the queen’s health surged after Prince Charles, her eldest son and heir to the throne, announced on March 25 that he was suffering symptoms of the virus. The prince, 71, had met his mother on March 12, only a day before his medical advisers assessed that he could have been infectious.

News outlets reported that one of the queen’s footmen, who is responsible for walking her dogs, had also contracted the virus. Buckingham Palace took extraordinary measures to protect her during the taping of the speech, allowing only a single camera operator, wearing a mask and gloves, to be in the room.

The queen looked at ease and alert during her speech, and Buckingham Palace has offered no updates on her condition. The palace is already planning her platinum jubilee, in 2022, marking 70 years on the throne. She is the world’s oldest monarch and longest-serving head of state.



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