The Queen sought to send a reassuring message to the county as she got back to business today, carrying out her first public engagement outside of a royal residence since before the coronavirus pandemic gripped the nation.
Her Majesty was joined by her grandson Prince William at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) at Porton Down near Salisbury to meet scientists who worked in the aftermath of the 2018 Novichok attack, and are supporting the UK’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak.
It is the first time the Queen has ventured from a royal residence in seven months, outside of her household of reduced staff – dubbed HMS Bubble – to carry out her duties as head of state.
But while the pair maintained strict social distancing, neither opted to wear face coverings despite her Majesty falling into the ‘at risk’ age bracket.
The 94-year-old shunned a mask, seen by some royal fans as a positive and uplifting message as parts of the UK teeter on the brink of another looming lockdown.
Heightened safety precautions were taken ahead of the visit to protect the Queen against coronavirus as she flew to the site in a helicopter, while the Duke of Cambridge arrived by car.
All 48 people who were due to come into close contact with them were tested for Covid-19 by Dstl beforehand, and while the testing process is still not foolproof, all came back negative.
Kensington Palace declined to comment as to whether the duke was also required to have a test in order to be able to accompany his grandmother.
Second in line to the throne William and the Queen, who previously would have been side by side, walked two metres apart as they were greeted by staff.
The Queen has spent lockdown at the Berkshire residence for her safety, but has been busy behind closed doors, carrying out telephone audiences, video calls and dealing with her red boxes of official papers.
The Queen donned a blush pink coat as she ventured out of her ‘HMS Bubble’ today, for a trip to the Energetics Analysis Centre at Porton Down science park near Salisbury
The 94-year-old monarch, wearing a Stewart Parvin old rose cashmere coat teamed with a matching hat by Rachel Trevor Morgan, was joined by her grandson the Duke of Cambridge
The Queen and Prince William saw displays of weaponry and tactics used in counter intelligence, a demonstration of a Forensic Explosives Investigation and met staff who were involved in the Salisbury Novichok incident
The Duke of Cambridge presented British Army Colonel Mike Duff, Assistant Commander South West and deputy joint commander for the decontamination of Salisbury following the 2018 Novichok incident, with the Firmin Sword of Peace for the South West department’s work on the poisoning
The Duke of Cambridge asked questions about forensics work during the visit this morning
The 94-year-old unveiled a plaque to officially open the new Energetics Analysis Centre at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory
What happens at the top secret Porton Down laboratory?
The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) at Porton Down carries out military and scientific research, much of which is secret.
CHEMICAL WEAPONS: Since the 1950s the lab has been producing ‘very small quantities’ of chemical and biological agents
ANIMAL TESTING: Around 48,400 animals were blown up, gassed, or poisoned by the MoD at Porton Down between 2010 and 2017, according to official figures
Since 1916 over 20,000 volunteers have taken part in studies at Porton Down.
EXPERIMENTAL TEST DEATH: In 1953, Aircraftsman Ronald Maddison died following participation in a trial in which a number of small drops of the nerve agent sarin were applied to the forearm through two layers of cloth.
The pathologist’s report stated that he had died from asphyxia. The subsequent inquest into his death overturned the coroner’s original findings, recording a verdict of unlawful killing.
COLD WAR: During the cold war period between 1953 and 1976, a number of secret aerial release trials were carried out to help the government understand how a biological attack might spread across the UK
EBOLA: Dstl has an active research programme on Ebola.
COVID: In March scientists began tested a Covid vaccine, made at Oxford University, on animals at the Wiltshire base before trialling on humans.
WW2: During the Second World War, Porton Down scientists developed a biological weapon using anthrax spores
WEAPONS STORAGE: Dstl possesses the only licensed UK facility for the receipt, storage, breakdown and safe disposal of old chemical weapons. It currently has around 1,000 munitions in the process of being disposed of
During the visit this morning the royal pair were also introduced to staff involved in the rapid response to the Novichok poisoning attack in Salisbury in 2018.
Small groups of those taking part in the royal visit were also arranged two metres apart for social distancing.
The choice by British royals not to wear face coverings comes in sharp contrast to the decision made by many of the European monarchs including Queen Letizia and King Felipe, and Queen Mathilde.
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge have however been seen sporting floral face masks during recent outings.
Their decision falls in line with government guidance and new laws introduced at the start of the pandemic, which state people must wear masks indoors.
A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said: ‘Specific advice has been sought from the medical household and relevant parties, and all necessary precautions taken, working closely with Dstl.’
But the Salisbury engagement comes amid a resurgence of the virus, as the country battles a second wave and stricter restrictions for some areas.
A memo issued to staff in April from the master of the household Tony Johnstone-Burt, a former Royal Navy Officer called the mission to protect the Queen and Prince Philip ‘HMS Bubble’.
The bubble requires 24 dedicated employees which work in two teams of 12, with a three week on, three week off rota. Staff are forced to spend a week in isolation and pass a coronavirus test before each three week shift begins.
The Queen, whose eldest son the Prince of Wales contracted a mild form of coronavirus, delivered two rare televised addresses to the nation just weeks apart during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
She reassured the country that the virus would be overcome, telling those in isolation: ‘We will meet again.’
In another speech to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day, she told how the message at the end of the war in Europe was ‘never give up, never despair’.
The Queen was last at an official public engagement outside of a royal residence when she joined the royal family for the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey on March 9.
In July, she knighted Captain Sir Tom Moore for his fundraising efforts in the grounds of Windsor Castle, where she also watched a mini socially-distanced Trooping the Colour for her official birthday in June.
It was the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s final public appearance before they quit as senior working royals for a new life in the US.
The monarch travelled to Balmoral for her private summer break and then spent a few weeks in Sandringham before returning to Windsor on October 6.
Today, the Queen and William were greeted by Dstl’s chief executive Gary Aitkenhead for a tour of the Energetics Enclosure to see displays of weaponry and tactics used in counter-intelligence.
They were also shown the £30 million state-of-the-art Energetics Analysis Centre to meet counter-terrorism staff and see a demonstration of a forensic explosives investigation.
The pair then spoke to those involved in identifying the nerve agent following the Novichok incident, and those who worked on the decontamination clean-up operation.
The Queen was on good form as she quipped while signing the guest book: ‘Well it proves we’ve been here, doesn’t it?’
She was dressed in her trademark block colours – a Stewart Parvin old rose cashmere coat and silk dress of autumnal woodland florals with a matching Rachel Trevor Morgan hat – with black gloves and her signature black Launer handbag.
There was also the traditional royal duty – the unveiling of a plaque to officially open the Dstl’s new £30 million Energetics Analysis Centre, used by scientists for counter-terrorist work.
Prince William and his grandmother signed a guest book and as she took her turn, the Queen joked: ‘Well, it proves we’ve been here, doesn’t it?
Her Majesty flew to Porton Down, which is near Salisbury in a helicopter, while Prince William arrived by car
The 94-year-old Monarch beamed as she unveiled the plaque to officially opening the centre
Dressed in a fetching blush coat and matching hat, Her Majesty was in good spirits as she visited the site with her grandson this morning
The Queen arrived by helicopter before she was greeted by Chief Executive Gary Aitkenhead
Her Majesty spoke with staff including Professor Tim Atkins (right), who was honoured for his work on the 2018 Novichok incident and has been involved in the fight against Covid-19
The Monarch shared a joke about her visit as she was invited to sign the visitor’s book
Timeline: How her Majesty has remained in the confines of the palace and ‘HMS Bubble’ throughout pandemic
The Queen has spent much of lockdown at Windsor Castle for her safety, but has been busy behind closed doors, carrying out telephone audiences, video calls and dealing with her red boxes of official papers. She and Prince Philip spent seven months together after being placed into joint quarantine at Windsor in March. They then spent six weeks at Balmoral over summer before cutting short their break to spend three weeks together in Norfolk.
March 19: Queen Elizabeth, 94, has been isolating with Prince Phillip, 98, since March 19 – despite her husband usually preferring to spend his time at Wood Farm on their Sandringham estate in Norfolk
April: A memo issued to staff from the master of the household Tony Johnstone-Burt, a former Royal Navy Officer called the mission to protect the Queen and Prince Philip ‘HMS Bubble’
April 5: The Queen delivered a rare televised address to the nation during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. She reassured the country that the virus would be overcome, telling those in isolation: ‘We will meet again.’
May 8: The Queen paid tribute to Britain’s lockdown spirit with an electrifying speech on the 75th anniversary of VE Day, in which she said Second World War heroes would admire the nation’s response to the pandemic
June 13: Her Majesty watched a mini socially-distanced Trooping the Colour for her official birthday
July 17: The Queen knighted Captain Sir Tom Moore for his fundraising in the grounds of Windsor Castle
August 4: The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived in Scotland for the start of their summer holiday. The couple travelled by car to RAF Northolt, in west London, where they boarded a private jet. They touched down at Aberdeen airport where they were met by a driver and whisked off to Balmoral
September 14: The Queen and her husband arrived at Sandringham for a fortnight break before their return to ‘HMS Bubble’ at Windsor
October 1: The Queen was forced to cancel all major events at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle for the rest of the year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
October 7: The Queen returned to Windsor Castle after spending time with the Duke of Edinburgh at Sandringham. Prince Philip, 99, remained in Norfolk, where he has spent the majority of his retirement.
The Queen knighted Captain Sir Tom Moore for his fundraising in July in the grounds of Windsor Castle
The Queen arrived back at Windsor Castle by helicopter following the visit this afternoon
The pair spoke to those involved in identifying the nerve agent following the Novichok incident, and those who worked on the decontamination clean-up operation
They were treated to demonstration of a Forensic Explosives Investigation with explosives detection dog, Max
The Queen, William and Dstl Chief Executive Gary Aitkenhead (right) viewed a demonstration of a Forensic Explosives Investigation with a model explosive device in a vehicle
The Queen and William were greeted by Dstl’s chief executive Gary Aitkenhead for a tour of the Energetics Enclosure to see displays of weaponry and tactics used in counter-intelligence
Russian intelligence has been accused of being behind the attempted nerve agent assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.
Dawn Sturgess and her partner Charlie Rowley fell ill in nearby Amesbury months after the attack, and Ms Sturgess later died after coming into contact with a perfume bottle believed to be linked to the case.
Military teams spent 13,000 hours on the clean-up. They took 5,000 test samples from across Salisbury and nearby Amesbury during the 355-day operation.
In recognition of their work, the duke was presenting the Army’s Headquarters South West with the Firmin Sword of Peace for going above and beyond their normal duties in the community.
Scientists at Porton Down laboratories are currently assessing rapid antigen tests as the UK remains in the grip of the pandemic.
In March, human and animal trials for a British vaccine against the coronavirus began at the Government’s secret science base Porton Down.
Scientists started testing the drug, made at Oxford University, on animals at the Wiltshire base before trialling on humans.
In July, it was revealed that Number 10 maverick Dominic Cummings was touring highly secret military and security service sites, including Porton Down, amid claims he was determined to ‘sort out’ hapless procurement and organisation.
The Duchess of Cambridge, 38, donned a lab coat and blue floral face mask as she was given a tour of the Institute of Reproductive and Development Biology at Imperial College London yesterday where she heard about the work of national charity Tommy’s
The Duchess of Cornwall, 72, stepped out in a face mask for the first time as she arrived at the National Gallery in London on July 28
The Duchess was the second royal to be seen wearing a face covering during the pandemic, after Prince William donned a medical mask while visiting the Oxford Vaccine Group’s facility on June 24
Harry and Meghan were spotted donning masks as they enjoyed a double date with friends Katherine McPhee and David Foster in Santa Barbara last week
Public will NOT be able to mark Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph on monument’s 100th anniversary because of the coronavirus pandemic
Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph will be closed to the public amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it was announced today.
Crowds will not be allowed to go to the service on November 8 and will be asked to mark the day at home.
The usual Royal British Legion march past has also been cancelled over public health fears.
It is expected that members of the Royal Family and dignitaries will still attend to lay wreaths to remember the fallen
The legion had previously hoped to still be able to hold the service with the march, but with additional measures.
The Queen, seen wiping her eye at the service in London last year, will be able to attend
The Royal British Legion’s march will also no longer be able to take place at the monument
Some veterans will be invited to attend the service, which will be made Covid-secure.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: ‘This Remembrance Sunday has a particular significance as it marks one hundred years since the Cenotaph was installed.
‘Whilst we will mark this occasion properly, it is with a heavy heart that I must ask people not to attend the ceremony at the Cenotaph this year in order to keep veterans and the public safe.
‘We will ensure our plans for the day are a fitting tribute to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and that our veterans are at the heart of the service – with the nation able to watch safely from home.’
The Queen is said to have been determined to be at the service and said she would return ‘come hell or high water’.
The Cenotaph was guarded by police in June earlier this year and is celebrating 100 years
Political leaders including Boris Johnson and then Labour No 1 Jeremy Corbyn in 2019