Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, has tested positive for the new coronavirus, royal officials confirmed Wednesday — touching off debate about whether his wealth and status gave him priority in receiving a test.
The 71-year-old is showing mild symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and is self-isolating at a royal estate in Scotland, the prince’s Clarence House office said. His wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, has tested negative.
“The Prince of Wales has tested positive for Coronavirus,” Clarence House said. It said he “otherwise remains in good health and has been working from home throughout the last few days as usual.” Britain’s Press Association, citing a source, said the prince and the 72-year-old duchess remained in good spirits, and that Charles was not bedridden.
The British government has advised people over age 70 to take social distancing measures especially seriously and warned they may need to stay home for 12 weeks. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can be more severe, causing pneumonia and sometimes death.
Charles is the latest high-profile figure to reveal a COVID-19 diagnosis. He joins a growing list of celebrities, athletes and other famous people who been tested for the novel coronavirus, even when they didn’t have a fever or other severe tell-tale symptoms.
That has fueled the perception that the wealthy and famous have been able to jump to the head of the line to get tested while others have been turned away or met with long delays. Scientists, public health and frontline medical staff officials have urged Britain to ramp up the number of people being tested for the virus. Currently the vast majority of people with mild symptoms are not being tested.
The government says it tested 6,491 people on Tuesday and hopes to increase that to 25,000 tests a day within three weeks. A member of the Scottish Parliament, Joan McAlpine, expressed surprise that Charles was tested. McAlpine, a legislator with Scotland’s governing Scottish National Party wished Charles a speedy recovery, but wondered aloud whether he had received special treatment.
“Given that his symptoms are said to be mild, like many I wonder how he was tested when many NHS and social care workers cannot get tested,’’ she said on Twitter. “My nephew, who has serious asthma and a chest infection was recently refused a test.’’
Charles and Camilla’s tests were carried out by the National Health Service in Scotland. Its website says that in general people will be tested if they “have a serious illness that requires admission to hospital.’’
Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood defended the test. “From the information I’ve been given it’s clear he was tested for clinical reasons,’’ she said. “And I’m pleased also that he is well and as with many people who have had this virus he has had a mild illness.”
Charles and other senior royals kept up a busy schedule of engagements until earlier this month, when they cut off public events as the coronavirus outbreak intensified. Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth II, 93, remains at her Windsor Castle home west of London with her 98-year-old husband, Prince Philip.
“Her Majesty the queen remains in good health,’’ the palace said, adding that the queen last saw Charles briefly at an event on March 12 and “is following all the appropriate advice with regard to her welfare.”
Philip was not with the monarch when she last saw Charles, the oldest of their four children. Clarence House said it was “not possible to ascertain from whom the prince caught the virus owing to the high number of engagements he carried out in his public role during recent weeks.”
Charles’ last public engagement was March 12. He has also had a number of private meetings, and participants at those sessions have been made aware of his condition. Charles attended a March 11 awards ceremony for his Prince’s Trust charity alongside celebrities including actor Pierce Brosnan and Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones.
Charles attended a round table meeting on March 10 with Monaco’s Prince Albert II, who has since tested positive for COVID-19. The British royal is not believed to have shaken hands with Albert at the WaterAid Summit in London on that day.
Charles has been photographed doing the namaste gesture, with hands pressed together, at public events in recent weeks, including the Commonwealth Day Service on March 9 at Westminster Abbey. The event was the last formal engagement of Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan.
Charles has spoken to both his sons: Prince William, who is second in line to the throne, and Prince Harry, who is in Canada. On March 3, before governments around the world started to join China in implementing sweeping curbs on public activities to counter the COVID-19 outbreak, William joked about the virus during an official visit to Ireland with his wife, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge.
“I bet everyone’s like, ‘I’ve got coronavirus, I’m dying’ and you’re like, ‘No, you’ve just got a cough’,” he told emergency workers at a reception hosted by Britain’s Ambassador to Ireland in Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse. “It does seem quite dramatic about the coronavirus. Is it being a little hyped-up in the media?”
With hindsight, William may regret his remarks in Ireland, including what he said next: that he and his wife “are spreading the coronavirus” even more.