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Image of queen grieving alone prompts calls for Britain to revise COVID funeral restrictions

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II looks on as she sits alone in St. George’s Chapel during the funeral of Prince Philip, the man who had been by her side for 73 years.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II looks on as she sits alone in St. George’s Chapel during the funeral of Prince Philip, the man who had been by her side for 73 years.Jonathan Brady/Associated Press

LONDON - The British government is coming under pressure to revise its stringent coronavirus rules regarding funerals in England following an image taken at Prince Philip’s funeral on Saturday that showed reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth II sitting alone in St George’s Chapel as she grieved for her husband of 73 years.

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 and theme parks reopened to the public following three national lockdowns. It was a stark contrast to images and videos circulating on social media which showed venues bustling with crowds and people outdoors enjoying food and drink together after almost 100 days of closure.

Some critics of the government questioned how people were able to get a haircut or 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.

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 that "a lot had changed" in the country since that moment - Britain's vaccine rollout has been largely successful with recent government figures indicating that 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.

Both the queen and Prince Philip had their first coronavirus vaccines in January, with the monarch saying that 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.