"Heartbreakingly sad" photo of Queen Elizabeth sitting alone prompts calls to ease COVID restrictions at funerals

Jonathan Brady/Pool via AP

Calls for the British government to ease COVID-19 restrictions on funerals surfaced after a heartbreaking photo from Prince Philip’s funeral went viral. The funeral was held on Saturday at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

Current restrictions on funerals in England include a limit of 30 people allowed to attend. Guests must socially distance themselves and wear face masks. A photo was taken inside St. George’s Chapel that showed Queen Elizabeth II sitting alone at the end of a long empty pew. The monarch was left to grieve alone as her family sat elsewhere. The photo went viral.

As Piers Morgan said, the photo was “heartbreakingly sad” and that was a good description. A 94-year-old woman was sitting alone as her husband of 73 years was laid to rest. That is enough to melt the coldest of hearts.

It seemed unnecessary. The Queen and others in the royal family have been vaccinated, including Prince Charles. Couldn’t the heir to the throne have been allowed to sit next to his mother? The funeral lasted just short of an hour. Queen Elizabeth did as she always does – she stoically did her duty. What the image did was bring up memories for others who have lost loved ones over the last year but because of the pandemic have been unable to hold traditional funerals. That has been a particularly brutal part of the pandemic. Families and friends have not been allowed to properly grieve those that they have lost in the last twelve months or more.

The funeral mandates in England should be revised, especially given the fact that the country is re-opening after its third lockdown.

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

On social media, some critics questioned how people were able to get a haircut, go to the gym or have 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.

The question is being asked by celebrities and members of the general public – Since cases are falling and the vaccination roll-out is being hailed as a success, why can’t funeral rules be revised? One man was told to move his chair away from his mother during his stepfather’s funeral to comply with COVID-19 restrictions last October and he spoke out on “Good Morning Britain”. He said at the time he understood but things have changed now.

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 “a lot had changed” in the country since that moment — Britain’s vaccine rollout has been largely successful, with recent government figures indicating 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.

Some basic humanity was lost due to strict mitigation mandates and though they may have all been necessary at the time of the initial coronavirus pandemic outbreak, it is time to ease up where it is possible to do so and still keep everyone as safe as possible. We can’t continue to live like this and the photo of Queen Elizabeth at that funeral brought that point home to viewers. It was a stark reminder that these are unusual times and cannot be embraced as normal life forever. If scaled-back crowds are being allowed to attend soccer matches in London’s Wembley Stadium, as they were on Sunday, there is no reason the Queen had to sit alone at her husband’s funeral on Saturday afternoon.

The same goes for the United States. Fans are being allowed to sit in sports stadiums in some states now. Some entertainers are testing the waters by holding scaled-back performances. This makes sense as vaccinations are being made available to everyone aged 16 and up now. Require masks for the time being, if they must, but there is no reason for public officials to keep everyone sitting at home anymore. Not allowing proper funerals is just cruel at this point.