Op-Ed: Why Can’t We Just Let the Queen Rest?

Queen Elizabeth wearing a pink coat and matching pink hat with a white feather on it

Getty / Stuart C. Wilson / Stringer

Rachel Charlton-Dailey (she/they) is an award-winning journalist specializing in health and disability. Their work is featured in publications such as Healthline, Huffpost, Metro UK, The Guardian, and Business Insider. Charlton-Dailey often uses their platform to spotlight issues that affect disabled people.

Last weekend, news broke that the Queen of England had contracted COVID-19. The 95-year-old monarch is said to be experiencing mild cold-like symptoms. According to a statement from Buckingham Palace, “Her Majesty is continuing with light duties.”

While this was meant to reassure the public that she wasn’t seriously ill and would be OK, I couldn’t help but find the messaging quite sinister. Without being massively patronizing, Queen Elizabeth is an elderly woman; she’s in the age group most at risk of complications or even death from COVID-19. The only thing she should be doing right now is resting and allowing her body to recover.

However, the message the royals are sending is highly damaging. While “light duties” for the Queen probably involve a lot less than the average person’s daily tasks, this is the wrong rhetoric to be using entirely.

It is perhaps no coincidence that this “keep calm and carry on” style message is being spread as the U.K. drops many of its COVID-19 restrictions. It’s a not-so-subtle way to tell people “if an old lady can go to work with COVID, what’s your excuse?”

Of course, there is a very big “excuse”: The virus is highly transmittable and we should be doing all we can to stop the spread and protect those most vulnerable in society.

However, as isolation protocols end, many will be forced to go into work by unscrupulous bosses. There are also those who won’t be able to take time off to isolate themselves. Sick pay for COVID-19 in England is limited, and with the end of self-isolation also comes the end of the £500 self-isolation payment previously offered to those on lower incomes. Many will have to make the heartbreaking decision between protecting others and having enough money to live.

As a chronically ill vulnerable person, I know how important rest is. A big part of my autoimmune disease, lupus, is chronic fatigue. If I don’t listen to my body and rest when it tells me to, I am suddenly faced with what feels like a brick wall of exhaustion. Rest is something that we all take for granted and definitely don’t get enough of, but I’ve learned the hard way just how necessary it is.

I used to be someone who insisted that I could still do everything despite my body crying out for rest, and I suffered the consequences. In the early years of my lupus diagnosis, I was determined to prove I could still live a “normal” life. I would work long hours in a job I hated and then crash when I got home. As a result, I didn’t have the energy to eat or look after myself properly outside of work, and my health suffered.

Thankfully, years later, I have learned how to listen to my body. I work on a schedule that suits me and my health, but I know this is a very privileged position to be in. That’s why the messaging that the Queen is still performing “light duties” instead of resting is so worrying. The queen is in a position to take as much time off as she wants, yet the line being fed to the general public is one of resilience.

I assure you there is also resilience in rest.

I hope that in private, the Queen is actually resting, wrapped up in bed with a lovely cup of tea, lots of blankets, a good movie, and her dogs for comfort. She shouldn’t be worrying about anything but getting better.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

By Rachel Charlton-Dailey
Rachel Charlton-Dailey (she/they) is a health and disability journalist. They serve as editor-in-chief of The Unwritten, a platform for the stories of disabled people. Their work features in publications such as Healthline, Huffpost, Metro UK, The Guardian, and Business Insider.