THE Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall made an unannounced visit to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital and chatted with health workers who have been saving lives of Cotswold residents.

Prince Charles revealed he lost his sense of taste and smell when he caught coronavirus - which has yet to fully return - as he carried out his first royal engagement with the public since lockdown began.

Charles spoke of his personal experience with Covid-19 as he met frontline NHS staff and key workers in person with the Duchess of Cornwall, and they praised their efforts as “Britain at its best”.

And Camilla talked about a recent family reunion, seeing her grandchildren for the first time since lockdown, saying: “First time last weekend. Not hug them, but see them - a great treat.”

The couple chatted to nurses, cleaners, consultants and care workers from a number of NHS trusts at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital in the open air, with everyone respecting social distancing measures by standing two metres apart.

Asked if the country’s appreciation of the NHS has changed for good, the duchess replied: “I think it has, you can tell by all the people coming out every week to clap - they’ve done the most remarkable things.

“The way they’ve looked after people, the way they’ve sort of kept control of the whole thing, you know, it’s a question of not panicking and getting on with it and I think they are Britain at its best.”

The Gloucestershire Royal in Gloucester is effectively Charles’ local hospital as it is close to his country home of Highgrove, but he chose to spend much of the lockdown at his Scottish retreat of Birkhall.

The prince spoke to Jeff Mills, 47, a healthcare assistant from Cheltenham General Hospital, about contracting Covid-19 in March, after developing mild symptoms.

Mr Mills said: “He did speak of his personal experience, so first-hand experience for him.

“He also spoke about his loss of smell and taste and, sort of, still felt he’s still got it now.”

With lockdown restrictions being eased, the royal family have chosen this week to take a step towards a return to normality - with a series of face-to-face public engagements.

When Charles first arrived, he received many he met with a namaste greeting - clasping his hands together - instead of a handshake, and the waiting NHS staff and others were carefully spaced out, standing on yellow dots to maintain the two-metre distance.

In a lighter moment, the heir to the throne quipped about the arrangement: “I was just thinking we should tell them to fall out, shortly,” while his wife joked: “I feel they’re going to take a salute or something.”

After meeting the staff, Charles said: “It’s been a marvellous opportunity just to have a chance of seeing people I know have been doing so much - literally on the front line.

“And having to endure an awful lot of stress and strain in their wonderful way - how they do it I don’t know. But delivering everything in the most effective way.

“And the great thing they were all saying is it’s brought different departments together in a way that hadn’t always happened before, so there’s been a great deal of marvellous co-operation I think.”

Professor Mark Pietroni, who hosted Charles’ visit on Tuesday, is medical director at the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and led its response to the coronavirus outbreak. Professor Pietroni said: “We focused on the things we knew would make a difference and we made sure that we were ready and we had escalation plans. We planned for a level of Covid-19 that never materialised and the level that did was relatively within our capacity.”

The South West has seen the lowest number of Covid-19 cases of all the English regions, but within the South West, Gloucestershire had more cases than any other area, said a Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust spokesman.

There have been 1,378 recorded cases of Covid-19 in the county, up to June 10, with 649 confirmed coronavirus patients admitted to the Trust’s hospitals in Gloucester and Cheltenham, and of these 162 have died.

Just 12 Covid patients are now being treated at the Trust, and during the pandemic 12 staff were hospitalised with the virus with five going on to need intensive care support.

Mr Mills, who works in a respiratory ward treating Covid-19 patients at the Trust’s general hospital in Cheltenham, described what the outbreak was like at its peak.

He said: “It was tapping into patients’ fear. They were very, very fearful, quite a few of them thought they were going to die regardless of the state of their condition.

“So there was a lot of reassurance to be given on the initial onset and they were so thankful.”