Prince William praised the health service staffers for "pulling together for the common good"
Queen Elizabeth said her family would “play our part” as the coronavirus pandemic grips Britain, and now, Prince William and Kate Middleton are doing just that. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are showing their support for emergency workers who are helping to keep people well-informed about the illness as it continues to spread.
On Thursday, the royal couple visited a call center run by the London Ambulance Service in Croydon, south London, to provide a morale boost for key health care workers who are keeping the flow of information and correct advice going in the community. There were no handshakes upon the couple’s arrival, and they washed their hands with anti-bacterial gel.
They followed the advice about social distancing, but it wasn’t always easy for some of the folks they met. At one point, Courtney Campbell, 32, reached out to shake their hands, and William said, “Don’t shake hands!” He smiled as they stopped for a picture, adding, “We can do a photograph if we are not within a metre of each other.”
Meeting with some of the call handlers, Kate, who wore a mauve suite by Marks & Spencer, told them: “It’s amazing. You’re doing such a great job bringing everyone together and providing that, the support system for the whole public.”
William, who worked in the emergency services as an Air Ambulance helicopter pilot, said, “There’s a lot of people out there who want to help. A lot of work is closing down elsewhere so people are going to want to come and volunteer, people want to help, people want to be there to support you guys, and everyone knows what a fantastic job you guys are doing.”
Their visit comes as Queen Elizabeth has settled into the isolation of Windsor Castle after all public events involving crowds have been curtailed due to the pandemic. On Thursday afternoon, she captured the mood of the nation by saying we are “entering a period of great concern and uncertainty” and assuring people “that my family and I stand ready to play our part.”
William and Kate wanted to meet staff who have been taking calls from the public on the National Health Service’s 111-line, and thank them for the vital work they are doing on behalf of the Queen, 93, William’s father, Prince Charles, 71, and the country. They sat down with some staff and toured the control room — keeping in mind the advice from the government and health service about social distancing — and heard how people can help alleviate pressure on the calling system by accessing official advice available online at nhs.uk/coronavirus.
William had a surprise when he was introduced to a call handler who had worked at Buckingham Palace when he was a baby. Paula White was a former telephonist at Buckingham Palace and had met him when he was a baby.
William joked with her, “Was I behaving myself? A rowdy little child?”
She told reporters, “I said, ‘I can’t say sir – the press are here!’ I worked [at the palace] when his mum was getting married.”
William’s mom Princess Diana would enjoy going into the switchboard room and even answer the calls. “She used to be taking calls with us. I saw the ring! [William] was just a little baby when she brought him down,” Paula White said. She praised the royal couple for coming to see them at the Croydon center. “It’s lovely. It’s like a pat on the back. It just raises morale.”
Following the visit, William, 37, said: “The last few weeks, and more recent days, have been understandably concerning with the continuing spread of coronavirus. But it’s at times like this when we realize just how much the NHS represents the very best of our country and society – people from all backgrounds and walks of life with different experiences and skills, pulling together for the common good.
“Not only are NHS staff and emergency workers responding to the needs of the public, they – like the rest of us – are concerned about their families, friends and loved ones. They need our support as much as we need theirs.”
He added, “That is why Catherine and I were proud to visit staff working at NHS 111, to pass on our personal thanks, along with those of my grandmother and father, to staff working around the clock to provide care and advice to those that need it most. It was also brilliant to see the great online tools for those with mild symptoms or worries.
“All of us have a part to play if we’re going to protect the most vulnerable. That means acting on the latest expert advice, staying home if we or those we live with have symptoms, and avoiding non-essential contact to help reduce the spread of the virus.”
William and Princess Kate, 38, also wanted to highlight how people can help alleviate pressure on the calling system by accessing official advice available online at nhs.uk/coronavirus. The Croydon call center has been receiving five times the usual rate of calls throughout the emergency.
Garrett Emmerson, CEO, London Ambulance Service, said, “It has therefore been an incredible boost to staff to be able to meet with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Their Royal Highnesses spoke to some of our 111 call handlers and clinicians who are extraordinarily busy as we work hard to support Londoners and the wider NHS.”
Can’t get enough of PEOPLE‘s Royals coverage? Sign up for our free Royals newsletter to get the latest updates on Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle and more!
Earlier in the week, William also called for the U.K. to band together amid the outbreak of the virus in a message on behalf of the National Emergencies Trust. It has launched an appeal to raise funds to help local charities support individuals suffering hardship as a result of the outbreak.
“Whenever and wherever adversity strikes, the people of the U.K. have a unique ability to pull together,” William said. “The way that local communities support those affected shows the very best of our values and human nature.”