Duchess Kate and Prince William connect with medical staff and volunteers from across the Commonwealth, a year into the pandemic

By Heather Cichowski

COVID-19 meant it wasn't possible for the Royal Family to hold its annual Commonwealth Day service this year, but they improvised with a special televised broadcast honouring health care workers around the Commonwealth and looking back at one year on since the pandemic began.

Prince William and Duchess Kate were among the royals who made a special appearance in the A Celebration for Commonwealth Day broadcast special.

Kate looked chic in a brilliant royal blue dress recycled from her wardrobe. The mom of three donned a long-sleeved Eponine London shift with dainty hoop earrings. We first saw her wear it in 2019, when she and William attended the launch of the National Emergencies Trust charity, which provides emergency response to the United Kingdom during disasters.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge spoke with medical, charity and voluntary staff from across the Commonwealth, and their conversations highlighted a cause that's important to them both: The intersections of the pandemic and mental health.

Kate and William had video calls with Dr. Zolelwa Sifumba from South Africa, Faysal Islam from Bangladesh and Heidy Quah from Malaysia to hear about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected front-line health-care workers there and what challenges it has given their mental well-being.

Zolelwa said prior to the pandemic, front-line staff were also exposed to occupational illnesses. She had a personal experience with multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis as a medical student. But COVID-19 has posed new challenges, and she said it's important for communities to give health care workers as much support as possible.

"My advice is if you know a health care worker, any health care worker, just love on them," she said.

"Love on them, love on them, love on them some more," she went on. "If their child needs looking after, offer. If they need a meal, offer."

The duke agreed with her and added that he and Kate have spent a good portion of the pandemic speaking with health care workers, hearing about their challenges and how their mental health is doing.

William is seen in an East Anglia Air Ambulance helicopter in 2015. Photo: © Stefan Rousseau WPA - Pool/Getty Images

William has extensive experience as a health care worker himself, having flown for the East Anglia Air Ambulance from 2015 to 2017. He's opened up several times about difficult things he witnessed in that role and how they affected him, along with the impacts on other health care workers' mental health.

Faysal explained his Safewheel Ambulance concept, which is a low-cost ambulance that helps support people in rural Bangladesh during medical emergencies. He was inspired to create the rickshaw concept after the uncle of his best friend died because he was not able to access a traditional ambulance during a medical crisis.

Heidy is the founder and chief of Refuge for the Refugees, a non-profit organization that aims to raise awareness on the conditions of refugees while providing them with support, including education for children. She highlighted the struggle for refugees in Malaysia with regards to access to education, jobs and healthcare. Heidy pointed out how even if refugees are able to settle, the process can take 10 to 15 years.

A Celebration for Commonwealth Day special also featured the Queen, Prince Charles, Duchess Camilla and Countess of Wessex. The Queen's Commonwealth Day speech marked the start of the broadcast. In her remarks, Her Majesty reflected on how a year of the pandemic has affected us all differently, but mentioned we all have much in common from which we can build a better, more sustainable future post-pandemic.


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