Queen carries out her first public royal engagement since before lockdown

The Queen sought to send a reassuring message to the county as she got back to business today, carrying out her first public engagement outside of a royal residence since before the coronavirus pandemic gripped the nation.

Her Majesty was joined by her grandson Prince William at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) at Porton Down near Salisbury to meet scientists who worked in the aftermath of the 2018 Novichok attack, and are supporting the UK's response to the Covid-19 outbreak.  

But while the pair maintained strict social distancing, neither opted to wear face coverings despite her Majesty falling into the 'at risk' age bracket.

The 94-year-old shunned a mask, seen by commentators as a positive and uplifting message as parts of the UK teeter on the brink of another looming lockdown.     

Heightened safety precautions were taken to protect the Queen, with all 48 people due to come into close contact with them tested for Covid-19 by Dstl beforehand - and while the testing process is still not foolproof - all came back negative.

It is the first time the Queen has ventured from a royal residence in seven months, outside of her household of reduced staff - dubbed HMS Bubble - to carry out her duties as head of state. 

Kensington Palace declined to comment as to whether the duke was also required to have a test in order to be able to accompany his grandmother.

Second in line to the throne William and the Queen, who previously would have been side by side, walked two metres apart as they were greeted by staff. 

The Queen has spent lockdown at the Berkshire residence for her safety, but has been busy behind closed doors, carrying out telephone audiences, video calls and dealing with her red boxes of official papers.

The Queen donned a blush pink coat as she ventured out of her 'HMS Bubble' today, for a trip to the Energetics Analysis Centre at Porton Down science park near Salisbury

The Queen donned a blush pink coat as she ventured out of her 'HMS Bubble' today, for a trip to the Energetics Analysis Centre at Porton Down science park near Salisbury

The 94-year-old monarch, wearing a Stewart Parvin old rose cashmere coat teamed with a matching hat by Rachel Trevor Morgan, was joined by her grandson the Duke of Cambridge

The 94-year-old monarch, wearing a Stewart Parvin old rose cashmere coat teamed with a matching hat by Rachel Trevor Morgan, was joined by her grandson the Duke of Cambridge

The Queen and Prince William saw displays of weaponry and tactics used in counter intelligence, a demonstration of a Forensic Explosives Investigation and met staff who were involved in the Salisbury Novichok incident

The Queen and Prince William saw displays of weaponry and tactics used in counter intelligence, a demonstration of a Forensic Explosives Investigation and met staff who were involved in the Salisbury Novichok incident

The Duke of Cambridge presented British Army Colonel Mike Duff, Assistant Commander South West and deputy joint commander for the decontamination of Salisbury following the 2018 Novichok incident, with the Firmin Sword of Peace for the South West department's work on the poisoning

The Duke of Cambridge presented British Army Colonel Mike Duff, Assistant Commander South West and deputy joint commander for the decontamination of Salisbury following the 2018 Novichok incident, with the Firmin Sword of Peace for the South West department's work on the poisoning

The Duke of Cambridge asked questions about forensics work during the visit this morning

The Duke of Cambridge asked questions about forensics work during the visit this morning 

The 94-year-old unveiled a plaque to officially open the new Energetics Analysis Centre at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory

The 94-year-old unveiled a plaque to officially open the new Energetics Analysis Centre at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory

What happens at the top secret Porton Down laboratory? 

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) at Porton Down carries out military and scientific research, much of which is secret.   

CHEMICAL WEAPONS: Since the 1950s the lab has been producing 'very small quantities' of chemical and biological agents  

ANIMAL TESTING: Around 48,400 animals were blown up, gassed, or poisoned by the MoD at Porton Down between 2010 and 2017, according to official figures

Since 1916 over 20,000 volunteers have taken part in studies at Porton Down. 

EXPERIMENTAL TEST DEATH: In 1953, Aircraftsman Ronald Maddison died following participation in a trial in which a number of small drops of the nerve agent sarin were applied to the forearm through two layers of cloth.  

The pathologist's report stated that he had died from asphyxia. The subsequent inquest into his death overturned the coroner's original findings, recording a verdict of unlawful killing. 

COLD WAR: During the cold war period between 1953 and 1976, a number of secret aerial release trials were carried out to help the government understand how a biological attack might spread across the UK

EBOLA: Dstl has an active research programme on Ebola.

COVID: In March scientists began tested a Covid vaccine, made at Oxford University, on animals at the Wiltshire base before trialling on humans. 

WW2: During the Second World War, Porton Down scientists developed a biological weapon using anthrax spores

WEAPONS STORAGE: Dstl possesses the only licensed UK facility for the receipt, storage, breakdown and safe disposal of old chemical weapons. It currently has around 1,000 munitions in the process of being disposed of

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During the visit this morning the royal pair were also introduced to staff involved in the rapid response to the Novichok poisoning attack in Salisbury in 2018. 

Small groups of those taking part in the royal visit were also arranged two metres apart for social distancing. 

The pair arrived separately, with the Queen flying to the site in a helicopter, while the Duke of Cambridge arrived by car. 

The choice by British royals not to wear face coverings comes in sharp contrast to the decision made by many of the European monarchs including Queen Letizia and King Felipe, and Queen Mathilde.

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge have however been seen sporting floral face masks during recent outings.

Their decision falls in line with government guidance and new laws introduced at the start of the pandemic, which state people must wear masks indoors. 

A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said: 'Specific advice has been sought from the medical household and relevant parties, and all necessary precautions taken, working closely with Dstl.' 

But the Salisbury engagement comes amid a resurgence of the virus, as the country battles a second wave and stricter restrictions for some areas. 

A memo issued to staff in April from the master of the household Tony Johnstone-Burt, a former Royal Navy Officer called the mission to protect the Queen and Prince Philip 'HMS Bubble'. 

The bubble requires 24 dedicated employees which work in two teams of 12, with a three week on, three week off rota. Staff are forced to spend a week in isolation and pass a coronavirus test before each three week shift begins. 

The Queen, whose eldest son the Prince of Wales contracted a mild form of coronavirus, delivered two rare televised addresses to the nation just weeks apart during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

She reassured the country that the virus would be overcome, telling those in isolation: 'We will meet again.'

In another speech to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day, she told how the message at the end of the war in Europe was 'never give up, never despair'.

The Queen was last at an official public engagement outside of a royal residence when she joined the royal family for the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey on March 9.

In July, she knighted Captain Sir Tom Moore for his fundraising efforts in the grounds of Windsor Castle, where she also watched a mini socially-distanced Trooping the Colour for her official birthday in June. 

It was the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's final public appearance before they quit as senior working royals for a new life in the US.

The monarch travelled to Balmoral for her private summer break and then spent a few weeks in Sandringham before returning to Windsor on October 6.

Today, the Queen and William were greeted by Dstl's chief executive Gary Aitkenhead for a tour of the Energetics Enclosure to see displays of weaponry and tactics used in counter-intelligence.

They were also shown the £30 million state-of-the-art Energetics Analysis Centre to meet counter-terrorism staff and see a demonstration of a forensic explosives investigation.

The pair then spoke to those involved in identifying the nerve agent following the Novichok incident, and those who worked on the decontamination clean-up operation.

The Queen was on good form as she quipped while signing the guest book: 'Well it proves we've been here, doesn't it?'

She was dressed in her trademark block colours - a Stewart Parvin old rose cashmere coat and silk dress of

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