London braces for an influx of royal mourners

London is preparing for the arrival of millions of people to mourn the passing of Queen Elizabeth II this week. Some have warned they will be queuing until 30 a.m. in Westminster to pay their respects to the former monarch.

The period of mourning, culminating with the Queen’s funeral, is expected to draw large crowds, echoing other UK historic moments including her coronation in 1953, Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965 and the death of Diana , Princess of Wales in 1997.

The massive influx of visitors is expected to strain the British capital’s transport system, lead to a shortage of hotel rooms and pose a major security concern.

Many foreign leaders are due to attend the Queen’s funeral on September 19 at Westminster Abbey, including US President Joe Biden, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Britons as well as overseas visitors will pay their respects by witnessing the ‘Queen’s lie’, when her coffin is placed on a platform in Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the Houses of Parliament, from Wednesday until the funeral.

Government officials expect millions of people to descend on London this week to experience a pivotal moment in UK history.

Up to 10,000 police will be deployed in London and 1,500 troops will be on hand to control crowds.

“It’s a huge challenge for the Metropolitan Police and for me personally. But we have been preparing for many, many years,” said Sir Mark Rowley, who took over as Met chief on Monday.

The Gold State Coach carries Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh through Trafalgar Square in London on June 2, 1953 © PA

In what will be one of the biggest ever policing operations in the UK, London’s roads will be closed, patrols visible in key locations and personal protection officers will be called in to deal with VIP visitors.

Parm Sandhu, a former chief superintendent of the Met, warned that services would be “stretched out”, with some streets so packed with people that it would be difficult to cross them.

“The crowds themselves will be a target for terrorists. The funeral itself will be a target for terrorists,” she told the BBC.

At Westminster Hall, the Queen’s body will be in a closed coffin draped in the Royal Standard, the sovereign flag. Each corner will be guarded by military units from the Sovereign’s Bodyguard, the Household Division or the Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London.

Downing Street declined to estimate the number of mourners likely to visit Westminster Hall, but some government officials privately believe the figure could be closer to 1 million.

A Number 10 spokesperson said the numbers would be far higher than the 200,000 who witnessed the Queen’s mother lie in 2002.

This means people could potentially queue all day and all night at Westminster Hall, government figures have suggested.

On Monday, Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan told MPs on WhatsApp: ‘Queues could last up to 30 hours as we are obviously forecasting and anticipating unprecedented demand.

The government has said it will provide water and first aid facilities for mourners going to Westminster Hall, who will have wristbands allowing them to visit the toilets before returning to their place in the queue. waiting.

People start camping on The Mall in London on Monday September 12, 2022
People start camping on The Mall in London on Monday September 12, 2022 © James Manning/PA

Expected large crowds mean hotels have sold out rooms in central London, particularly around Westminster and the West End.

A hotel executive said that as part of Operation London Bridge, the long-running plan for the Queen’s death, many hotel rooms had been allocated to police and support and emergency services. others taken by the international media.

This left fewer rooms for visitors from the UK and overseas who wanted to pay their respects, she added.

Travelodge, one of London’s largest hoteliers with 78 locations, said its “central London and Windsor hotels are literally full, and demand is growing strongly for our hotels near a train station or of a tube station in Greater London”.

The average price of a hotel room in London over the funeral weekend is almost 40% higher than last year, according to Trivago, the online booking site.

The Queen Mother's coffin at Westminster Hall in 2017

The Queen Mother’s coffin in Westminster Hall in 2017 © John Stillwell/PA

Cafes and pubs are gearing up for a busy week, with some preparing to open immediately after the funeral is over to capitalize on demand for food and drink.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, a trade body, said hotels were facing high demand throughout the funeral weekend, especially large businesses around London.

Transport authorities have warned that London could face “unprecedented” demand for services and said they will have additional staff and services for the coming days.

In a joint statement, Transport for London and Network Rail said the city would be “unusually busy” and urged passengers to plan their journeys in advance and check for updates. “Passengers may wish to consider walking to their final destination in the capital,” they added.

Some officials have been asked to consider working from home later this week, while others have been asked to bring two pieces of identification to enter buildings in Whitehall.

Meanwhile, some foreign dignitaries have been told to travel to the Queen’s funeral in coaches escorted from a site in west London and avoid using state cars to get to the Abbey of Westminster, according to a government memo obtained by Politico.

Downing Street has played down the idea that top foreign leaders such as Biden should take the special coaches. “The arrangements for different leaders will vary depending on the security risk,” a Number 10 spokesperson said.