The Duchess of Cornwall expressed her hopes that the country is over the worst of the pandemic as she and the Prince of Wales took part in their first mask-free royal event of the crisis.
Camilla’s comment came during an impromptu walkabout in the grounds of Exeter Cathedral, meeting members of the public in numbers not seen for more than a year.
But the duchess sounded a cautious note, telling one well-wisher the nation has to be careful.
The couple’s tour of the cathedral – part of a three-day trip to Devon and Cornwall – had been publicised in advance, another sign of a return to normality, and around 100 people turned out in blazing summer sunshine to welcome them.
After meeting local community and environmental groups in the open-air, Charles and Camilla walked over to a line of residents who had been waiting for them to arrive.
The duchess chatted to Exeter resident Sarah Clarke, who said afterwards: “She said it’s lovely to be here and hopefully we’re over the worst of it and I said ‘Fingers crossed’.
“She also said we’ve just got to be careful.”
Monday has been dubbed “freedom day” with most legal coronavirus restrictions in England being lifted by the Government as it moves to Step 4 of its pandemic recovery road map.
For the first time since March 2020, the two-metre social distancing rule is no longer being enforced and face coverings are no longer required by law, but the Government has said it “expects and recommends” that they are worn in crowded areas like public transport.
When the royal couple met various groups outside the cathedral they also chatted to Tuesday Masding, a senior healthcare assistant with North Devon Healthcare NHS Trust.
The NHS worker said after speaking to Camilla: “We were just discussing the relaxation of rules and how she hasn’t quite got around to shaking hands with people, and I said that’s probably an appropriate reaction.”
The Dean of Exeter, the Very Reverend Jonathan Greener, hailed the visit of the prince and duchess, who also learned about ongoing major renovations to the medieval place of worship.
He said: “It was a wonderful experience on such a lovely day – the first day of freedom – what more could you ask for?
“The sun’s shining, we don’t have to wear masks, they were both on sunny form – it was marvellous, and they were so interested in what people were telling them.”
The couple have worn a variety of face coverings during the pandemic, some disposable but mostly reusable designs, but went mask-free throughout the cathedral visit.
During a trip to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff earlier this month, Camilla touched her mask as she told a student: “I can’t wait to get rid of these.”