LONDON (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II held her first major engagement at Buckingham Palace since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic a year and a half ago, as she presided Thursday over the launch of the baton relay for next year’s Commonwealth Games in the central England city of Birmingham.
British Paralympic gold medalist Kadeena Cox, fresh from winning another two events in Tokyo, had the honor of taking the baton from the queen on the first leg of its 90,000-mile (145,000 kilometer) journey.
The relay will go through 72 nations and territories of the Commonwealth over 294 days and will return to Birmingham for the opening ceremony on July 28. Flying out from Birmingham Airport, the baton will first stop on the east Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus on Oct. 9 before departing for Malta, the relay’s next destination.
The 95-year-old monarch, who has spent much of the pandemic at Windsor Castle, just west of London, wore a bright orange coat dress and matching hat at Thursday’s event.
She was joined by her youngest son, Prince Edward, who is the vice patron of the Commonwealth Games Federation. Others in attendance at the palace were Commonwealth of Nations Secretary-General Patricia Scotland and athletes who are gearing up to compete in the Games.
The Commonwealth Games, formerly known as the Empire Games, are held every four years and involve mostly countries and territories with colonial ties to Britain, including Australia, Canada, India and South Africa.
A strand of platinum has been incorporated into the baton in recognition of the queen’s 70-year reign, which will be celebrated next year.
The baton will carry hi-tech gadgets, including a 360-degree camera and atmospheric sensors which use laser technology to analyze environmental conditions. It will also carry a message from the queen to be read out loud at the opening ceremony.
Organizers said that to reduce the relay’s carbon footprint, the baton will travel almost half the distance of the one that hopped the planet before the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in Australia.