Queen gives speech in midst of COVID-19 crisis as prime minister sent to hospital

“We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again,” the queen said, echoing a World War II-era song.

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By Saphora Smith

LONDON — It was a rare speech designed to reassure a nation struggling under the weight of a pandemic.

“Better days will return,” Queen Elizabeth II said, echoing the beloved World War II-era song “We’ll Meet Again” that offered hope to many on the front lines. “We will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”

But soon after the queen's rallying cry to her subjects drew to a close Sunday evening, Britons’ cellphones were abuzz with the news that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been hospitalized — 10 days after he was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Val Cloke sits in her living room in the village of Hartley Wintney, west of London, on Sunday watching Britain's Queen Elizabeth II deliver a special address.Adrian Dennis / AFP - Getty Images

While his Downing Street office said it was a “precautionary step” and Johnson remained in charge of the government, the news nevertheless underscored the deep crisis that Britain is facing as it attempts to control the coronavirus outbreak.

The country has recorded 51,608 cases of the new virus, as well as 5,373 deaths, according to statistics released by the Department of Health. As the numbers rise, Johnson’s government has been widely criticized for the lack of available tests in Britain — having promised weeks ago to rapidly increase testing.

The prime minister’s office said Monday that coronavirus testing topped 16,000 in the U.K. on Sunday, according to Britain's Press Association news wire, surpassing the original 10,000-a-day pledge the government made last month.

But progress in increasing testing numbers has been slow. Health Secretary Matt Hancock told a news conference last week that 100,000 tests a day would be performed by the end of April.

Then came the news that Scotland's chief medical officer was forced to resign after she visited her second home two weekends in a row, breaking her own advice to stay at home to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

And now, the country has to cope with its leader in the hospital.

Johnson’s office said the hospital admission came on the advice of his doctor and was not an emergency, but even so the news raises questions as to how the 55-year-old can lead an embattled nation from his hospital bed. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was due to lead the government’s coronavirus meeting Monday.

When pressed on whether it was safe for the prime minister to continue working while in the hospital Monday, his official spokesman said Johnson would follow doctors' advice. Johnson would remain in charge of the government, the spokesman added.

Meanwhile, the prime minister tweeted Monday that he was in “good spirits.”

But despite the alarming political developments, Britons did appear to find solace in the queen’s can-do, carry-on spirit that is admired beyond the borders of the United Kingdom.

Many took to social media to express their gratitude.

“So proud to be British and to have Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth as our head of State. Quite emotional watching her speech,” Kate Hoey, former Labour member of Parliament, tweeted Sunday.

"She is our queen as well. And she touches many hearts across this world including #Canadians like myself," responded another Twitter user.

It is a rare event. The queen gives yearly Christmas messages but has given an address like this on only three previous occasions, according to The Associated Press.

She delivered speeches after the Queen Mother’s death in 2002, before the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997, and at the time of the first Gulf War in 1991.

In the speech Sunday, the queen offered her support to the country and drew parallels with Britain’s struggle during World War II.

“It reminds me of the very first broadcast I made, in 1940, helped by my sister. We, as children, spoke from here at Windsor to children who had been evacuated from their homes and sent away for their own safety,” she said.

“Today, once again, many will feel a painful sense of separation from their loved ones. But now, as then, we know, deep down, that it is the right thing to do.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.