Prince Charles has unveiled plaques and planted ceremonial trees on countless royal engagements, but for the first time on Friday, he carried out the first virtual royal opening ceremony.
Seated at his home in the Scottish highlands, Charles took part in a hospital opening via video link amid the coronavirus pandemic. The virtual ceremony for a new temporary field hospital in London serving coronavirus patients marks the first time a member of the royal family has performed an opening ceremony remotely. The Nightingale hospital is the first of several centers that will open around Britain to cope with the rising numbers of patients who can’t be cared for in over-stretched hospitals.
Charles, 71, is currently based at his Birkhall home in Scotland and recovering from the coronavirus. He is also observing the order from the U.K. government to halt any non-essential travel, meaning he couldn’t be at the Nightingale hospital in person.
In the video, he paid tribute to those who have worked tirelessly to create the new hospital, which had been constructed in just nine days.
“I was one of the lucky ones to have COVID-19 relatively mildly. But for some it will be a much harder journey. I am therefore so relieved that everyone can now have the reassurance that they will receive all the necessary technical care they may need and every chance to return to a normal life,” he said.
“This hospital offers us an intensely practical message of hope for those who need it most at this time of national suffering. Let us also pray, ladies and gentleman, that it will be required for as short a time, and for as few people, as possible.”
The new facility is based at the Excel conference center in east London. The 100,000-sq. meters of space has been converted into a facility that will initially provide 500 beds, rising up to 4,000 beds if needed.
Charles said the new hospital was a “spectacular and almost unbelievable feat of construction” and followed an “extraordinary collaboration.” It was proof of “how the impossible can be made possible and how we can achieve the unthinkable through human will and ingenuity,” the prince added.
Referring to Florence Nightingale, for who the center is named, he added that she “brought hope and healing to thousands in their darkest hour.” This place, he said, will be “a shining light.”
Closing out his address, he joked that the “wonders of modern technology can only do so much and I can’t quite reach” to unveil the plaque, so he asked the head of nursing to unveil the plaque to declare it open.
Earlier this week, Charles gave a video address from his study, showing solidarity with others who are going through the illness and coping with the loss of loved ones.
On Friday morning he added, “We owe an immense debt of gratitude to the doctors, the nurses, the technicians, the staff currently working in the health service and those coming out of retirement, and the voluntary workers who have been working within it. And I can only offer my special thoughts and prayers to all those who receive care within it and let us hope it will not be too long before this terrible disease has left our land.”
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Hosted by Chief Nurse, Ruth May, the hospital opening included a small gathering of people representing medical staff, the defense department — as members of the armed forces helped build the center, contractors and volunteers joined the U.K. health secretary Matt Hancock MP and Professor Charles Knight, Chief Executive of NHS Nightingale, at the entrance to the new hospital.