Prince Charles out of virus isolation: royal officials

Britain's Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, seen here in February, is no longer in quarantine (AFP Photo/Eddie MULHOLLAND)
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London (AFP) - Prince Charles, the eldest son and heir of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, is no longer in quarantine after showing mild coronavirus symptoms, his office said on Monday, as scientists said strict measures put in place across Britain to limit close-contact transmission could be having an effect.

"Clarence House has confirmed today that, having consulted with his doctor, the Prince of Wales is now out of self-isolation," it said in a statement.

The 71-year-old prince, whose age put him among the most-risk category for the disease, is said to be in good health and abiding by government health guidelines.

Royal officials announced last Wednesday that Charles was in self-isolation at the queen's sprawling Balmoral estate in northeast Scotland. He tested positive last Tuesday.

His wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, 72, tested negative.

Both were seen in video footage last Thursday joining in nationwide applause for doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals dealing with the outbreak.

Clarence House said doctors believe Charles became contagious on March 13 -- a day after last meeting his mother.

The 93-year-old queen has been staying with her 98-year-old husband Prince Philip at Windsor Castle, 640 miles (820 kilometres) south of Balmoral, since March 19.

Given their age -- and Prince Philip's stay in hospital at Christmas -- the prince's diagnosis prompted questions about their potential exposure to the virus.

But Buckingham Palace said the queen was "in good health", and her husband was not present when she last saw Charles.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, 55, has also tested positive for the virus and is currently in self-isolation, as is his chief adviser Dominic Cummings, and two other cabinet ministers.

- Constant increase -

According to the latest figures, Britain had 22,141 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of 0800 GMT on Monday with 1,408 deaths -- up from 19,522 and 1,228 on Sunday.

The head of the National Health Service in England, Simon Stevens, said more than 9,000 people were being treated in hospitals -- a 50 percent increase since Friday.

Britain last Monday began a three-week lockdown of non-essential shops and services to limit the close-contact spread of the virus and reduce the burden on the overstretched state-run NHS.

About one in four NHS doctors are off work sick or in isolation, according to the Royal College of Physicians. One in five nurses have been affected, the Royal College of Nurses said on Sunday.

A new 4,000-bed field hospital is opening this week in east London and similar facilities are being set up in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow for an expected surge in cases.

The true number of confirmed cases is likely to be an under-estimation, as Britain only tests people with severe symptoms who are taken into hospital.

Figures about deaths from COVID-19 in the wider community are to be published this week.

The government's chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said he did not expect large differences.

He told a news conference the stringent social distancing measures imposed last week could be working, although it would take several weeks to see the effects in full.

The increase in the daily numbers of confirmed cases and deaths has been "pretty much" steady for the last few days, he said

"That shows that it's going up not in an increasing amount but going up in a constant amount that may suggest that we're already beginning to see some effects through," he added.

"I do expect that number to continue. I expect people coming every day to be about that, it may go up a little bit.

"And in two or three weeks you would expect that to stabilise and to start to go down a bit."

But Vallance said it was still too early to say how long the government's stay-at-home order would last and when the measures could be lifted.