As Britain grinds to a national standstill ahead of Monday’s funeral for Queen Elizabeth II, it is grappling with an uncomfortable conundrum: what should, and what shouldn’t, be canceled out of respect for the monarch?
Sporting fixtures and cultural events have been almost entirely suspended on Monday, the day of UK’s first state funeral since Winston Churchill’s death in 1965. Museums, banks, businesses, shops and schools will also close on what is now a Bank Holiday.
But while those closures were mostly anticipated following the demise of a monarch whose reign lasted seven decades, others have caused more serious consequences – leaving some Brits mystified and angry.
Non-urgent hospital appointments across the country have been pushed back due to staffing shortfalls, adding to an already unprecedented waiting list for health care in Britain. Holidaymakers have seen their accommodation plans torn up, travelers are warned that flights will be disrupted to avoid noise over London, and funerals and food banks are braced for disturbances.
“It’s sad the Queen’s gone, but potentially leaving someone to get worse is not helpful,” said photographer Dan Lewsey, who told CNN his mother’s check-up after a cancer diagnosis was postponed by a hospital in Shropshire, western England. “Normal life should be able to carry on to an extent.”
The confusion reflects a country that has wrestled with how best to honor the Queen. Despite decades of planning for Elizabeth II’s passing, the government has declined to issue firm guidance on what should and should not go ahead during the period of national mourning, leaving many decisions up to providers.
That has resulted in wildly different approaches from companies and services. Brits have been asked not to cycle or go without weather updates; Some, like a supermarket’s decision to lower the noise of its checkout beeping, has been ridiculed online. But others have left people fretting over essential provisions.
“The closure of essential services like food banks, scheduled hospital appointments and funeral services does not pay respect to the Queen. It’s a mark of disrespect to the British public,” said Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, a political activist and the author of “This Is Why I Resist.”
Hospitals and holidays disrupted
The suspension of some medical treatments caused widespread concern. “It’s of course very sad the Queen died, and a funeral is important, but we are asking people to give up potentially life-saving medical treatment for the aristocracy,” Marcia Allison, 39, told PA Media after learning that her 69-year-old father had seen a dentist’s appointment canceled on Monday.
“It’s abhorrent to ask people like himself to lose their teeth for an unelected head of state in the 21st century. This isn’t democratic,” she told the news agency.
Bank holidays affect staffing across the country and have left many hospitals unable to fulfill their appointments. The Aneurin Bevan University Health Board in southeast Wales has apologized for the “unavoidable disruption,” telling patients it is “postponing all planned appointments and clinics” for Monday.
It comes at a particularly difficult time for patients. Britain’s National Health Service has been operating under severe strain; a record 6.8 million people are waiting for treatment, according to the latest figures from the British Medical Association (BMA), and there are concerns that the queue could be swelled further by Monday’s cancellations.
The BMA’s arm for representing junior doctors also expressed anger that the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (RCOG) delayed exams on Monday. “Junior Doctors spend months dedicated to revising for these exams. Delays cause a significant mental toll, as well as potentially affecting training progression,” the BMA said.
An NHS spokesperson said that “as with any Bank Holiday, NHS staff will work to ensure that urgent and emergency services, including urgent dental and GP appointments, are available — and patients will be contacted by their local trusts, if necessary, regarding their existing appointments.”
But while missed hospital appointments are typically the result of sudden staffing shortfalls, numerous companies have also taken the decision to cancel their regular services on Monday, often leaving customers in the dark.
Center Parcs, a company that operates several resorts around the UK, attracted criticism around the country on Wednesday after it announced plans to close on Monday, leaving guests without accommodation.
The company has since reversed its plan to remove guests from sites for one day, but still will not allow customers to arrive and check into their accommodation on Monday, meaning some have been forced at short notice to find alternative places to stay.
“It’s come out of the blue,” said David Grierson, 33, who had plans to drive the length of England this weekend and arrive at Center Parcs in Cumbria on Monday. “We now need to find some extra accommodation … we’re seeing upwards of £200 ($230) a night (and) around the Center Parcs area, the availability is very poor.
“It’s a little bit disproportionate, what they’ve done,” Grierson told CNN. “I would totally understand if they made some changes on the day, but to lock people out once were already on the road has stunned us.”
Center Parcs told CNN: “We believe that this was the right to thing do and this decision was taken as a mark of respect and to allow as many of our colleagues as possible to be part of this historic moment.” A company spokesperson added that messages sent from the company’s social media account, warning guests they must “remain in their lodges” on Monday was “a mistake.”
“Guests are of course allowed out of their lodges,” the spokesperson clarified.
‘Coming up with it as they go’
Public places have meanwhile been dealing with the question of how, and how not, to honor the monarch. Images and tributes to the Queen are virtually impossible to avoid in British cities; bus stops, train stations, shop windows and advertising boards bear her face. During her life, the Queen became probably the most recognizable woman ever to have lived — yet she has been even more visible in death.
Some tributes, however, have seemed more natural than others. Guinea Pig Awareness Week was postponed to avoid clashing with the monarch’s funeral. An image of the late Queen surrounded by cans of baked beans in a British supermarket attracted mild ridicule online. Another supermarket chain, Morrisons, confirmed to CNN it had lowered the volume of the “beeps” made when an item is scanned at checkout, out of respect to the late Elizabeth II.
Numerous companies and groups have joined Center Parcs in issuing perplexing advice. British Cycling apologized after it “strongly” recommended that people do not ride their bikes during the state funeral; it has now scrubbed that advice from its websites, admitting “we got this one wrong.”
The government has advised companies that “there is no obligation on organizations to suspend business during the National Mourning period. Depending on the nature and location of their business and the tone of planned events, some businesses may wish to consider closing or postponing events, especially on the day of the State Funeral.”
Confusion has also surrounded the other funerals set to take place around the country on the day the Queen is laid to rest. “If a chosen crematorium or cemetery has taken a decision to close, for whatever reason, funeral directors are working with families to find another date, or another venue, that they are happy with,” the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) said in a statement.
“The NAFD and other trade bodies in the funeral sector have guided their members that that these decisions should be led by the needs and wishes of the bereaved families,” the group said. It added that reduced transport connections on the Bank Holiday could prevent guests from reaching funerals.
Flights will also be affected; Heathrow airport, one of the world’s largest transport hubs, said it will cancel some flights on Monday to reduce noise pollution over London on the day of the funeral. The airport previously disrupted flights for a two-hour period on Wednesday to “ensure silence” during a ceremonial procession of the Queen’s coffin.
“Most court and tribunal hearings will not take place” on Monday, the country’s court and tribunal service said. Driving tests will not take place. And food banks have been forced to shuffle staffing in order to stay open; Wimbledon’s food bank, in southwest London, initially said it would close but later clarified it would be able to run on Monday thanks to “the overwhelming support” of last-minute volunteers.
Monday’s funeral will be watched by millions of Brits. It will be the “largest single policing event” that London’s Metropolitan Police force has ever undertaken, the force’s Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy said during a media briefing on Friday.
But it has left companies not involved with the event at a loose end, as they balance their services and staffing with the momentous nature of the Queen’s death.
“It’s a moment of great national significance, whatever your opinions on the monarchy,” said Grierson, reflecting on his holiday being disrupted and the cancellations seen across the UK in general.
“(But) a lot of business may not have the guidance from the government on what to do – so they’re just trying to come up with it as they go.”