Queen criticised for not wearing face covering on first public engagement outside royal residence since March

The Queen attended her first public engagement outside of a royal residence since March – but the 94-year-old monarch was without a face covering, despite being at a greater risk of severe illness from Covid-19 due to her age.

The Queen was joined by her grandson the Duke of Cambridge at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) at Porton Down near Salisbury, meeting scientists providing vital support in the UK’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Queen remarked on the present Covid-19 situation, saying: “It’s doubling itself again.”

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Told it was on the rise and the approach was being evaluated, she added: “Well I suppose it was expected?”

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Cambridge (right) view a demonstration of a Forensic Explosives Investigation with explosives detection dog named 'Max' during a visit to the Energetics Analysis Centre of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down, Wiltshire.

Professor Tim Atkins, who co-ordinated Dstl’s Covid response, replied: “Predicted ma’am, yes.”

The Queen added: “With all these horrible new things…”

Prof Atkins responded: “Absolutely, it’s an emerging new disease.”

The Queen ventured from HMS Bubble – the nickname for her reduced household of staff – for what was her first external engagement in seven months.

Queen Elizabeth II signing a visitors book during a visit to the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down, Wiltshire.

She 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.

But much had changed in terms of the heightened safety arrangements put in place for the royal engagement.

Neither the monarch nor William was wearing a face covering.

But all 48 people who were due to come into close contact with them were very recently tested for Covid-19 by Dstl beforehand, and all came back negative, and social distancing was carried out during the visit.

Porton Down has pioneered some of the Covid-19 diagnostic testing and so was able to test everyone prior to them coming into contact with the royals.

The pressure group Republic criticised the Queen for not wearing a face mask, saying she should have set an example.

Graham Smith, chief executive of the organisation which campaigns for an elected head of state, said: “The Queen should be setting an example.

“I can’t see how this fits with the rules everyone else is expected to follow, so the Palace needs to come up with a rules-compliant explanation.”

Members of the royal family including William, the Duchess of Cambridge, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, have frequently been seen in face masks or visors during some, but not all, royal engagements, but the Queen is yet to be pictured in one.

Face coverings are required by law in certain indoor settings such as on public transport, in shops and places of worship.

The Government recommends wearing a face covering in indoor places where social distancing may be difficult and where the public come into contact with those they do not normally meet.

Although Kensington Palace declined to comment, it is understood the duke was also tested in order to accompany his grandmother, and was negative.

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