WHEN the Queen published a heartfelt statement last week saying Britain was equal to the challenge put before it by coronavirus, she made sure to mention that she was with Prince Philip.
The couple, who left Buckingham Palace and Sandringham respectively to meet at Windsor Castle have, despite their unique status, evidently heeded the Government’s advice and gone into a state of isolation. Not only are they elderly at 93 and 98, but thanks to Prince Philip’s recent bout of bad health, they are considered to be in the ‘high risk’ category.
Despite the action they have taken, their example raises plenty of questions. Windsor Castle is operating with a small staff, but on Tuesday it was reported that the Queen had requested that both her personal adviser Angela Kelly and her Page of the Backstairs, Paul Whybrew, are by her side during the quarantine. Alongside them are a handful of others.
This means that a risk to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh remains. Yes, courtiers, advisers, waiters and cooks can all wash their hands, but whoever comes into contact with the couple having also had some contact with the outside world threatens the protective wall around the monarch.
Now consider a less fortunate elderly person – let’s say a woman in her 90s who lives alone and who is fully reliant on her carer. Like the Queen, she will be living in an enforced state of lockdown for 12 weeks at least, as per Government instruction.
But imagine if the carer stops visiting the woman because of their own need to isolate due to somebody else in their household having suspicious symptoms, or because they do not wish to travel on public transport, or because they fear infecting the vulnerable whom they look after.
For so many elderly people, carers provide company, conversation and comfort. For many, too, they control medication and perform vital practical tasks, including personal washing and meal preparation. Without widespread testing, everybody is being left in a horrible limbo.
The Government needs to wake up to the fact that testing those who care for the elderly must become a priority. In the meantime, it must be left to carers and their clients’ discretion to weigh the risk while taking all necessary other precautions.
Yet this week, chilling reports have emerged from Spain concerning the discovery of dead and dying elderly care home patients. They had been abandoned. Could something similar happen in Britain? Could we see a surge of elderly people dying from other causes in the next few weeks? Without the testing of carers, nothing is impossible.
Meanwhile, the lockdown of the rest of society now instituted by Boris Johnson is entirely reliant upon trust. It has a chance of mitigating the spread of infection and the speed of the spread, but only if people follow the rules, which in certain cases are going to seem deeply unreasonable and arbitrary.
In the final analysis, it is up to individuals to do the right thing. While people are allowed to leave their premises once a day to exercise, for example, it will be impossible to police this. How can anybody truly monitor how many times in a day someone has left the house to run round the block? How will they also deal with gangs of vandals as reported here?
It follows that the ease with which this order can be breached undermines the whole measure. Who might rebel? People who are stressed, bored, worried about an elderly relative whom they want to visit, or those living with small children in cramped quarters. However it might happen, it could take just one person to betray that trust to infect another.
This takes us back to the Queen and indeed every elderly person. How can they be protected when they continue to have people coming in and out of their homes? And do they want to be? Will they not feel safer and more at ease with human contact? I am not aware of the Government having addressed this point yet in any detail.
Everybody wants to protect the most vulnerable in society from this disease, but we also need to protect them from other evils, such as abandonment.