Prince Charles carries out duties without a mask

The royal itinerary was made public in advance to attract crowds to the Devon locations

Britain's Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, went mask-free on Monday for their first official duties since coronavirus restrictions across the country were lifted.

At their first engagement in Exeter Cathedral, Devon, the couple chatted with a group of people all without masks for the royal visit.

The Prince of Wales, 72 and the Duchess of Cornwall, who was 74 on Saturday, were greeted by Lord Lieutenant Julian Tagg.

Unusually, the royal itinerary was made public in advance to attract crowds to the Devon locations rather than being kept secret to avoid royal fans attending public appearances.

England's reopening was greeted with some caution on Monday, with most people planning to continue wearing masks as the Delta variant wreaks havoc in Britain.

The long-awaited “Freedom Day” means there are no more restrictions on social gatherings, masks are no longer a legal requirement, and nightclubs opened for the first time since March 2020.

Prince Charles’s aides said on Sunday that he would wear masks only as government advice dictates.

The couple started the day in Exeter to celebrate the city becoming a Unesco City of Literature, before moving on to find out about the city’s goals for net zero emissions at the new bus station.

“It's been a triumph,” the Bishop of Exeter said after the visit.

Founded in 1050, the cathedral is home to a large library and archive, including the Exeter Book, a famous dark age poetry book written on parchment.

“We showed [Charles] the clay maquettes which are basically grotesques that will hang in the Cathedral,” said cathedral stonemason Joe Milne.

“He seemed really interested. I've met him before when I was a student at Weymouth college and he's always interested in historical objects.”

Ministers urged caution as they pressed ahead with the unlocking despite infection rates climbing to all-time highs in about one in six areas of England, including almost all local authority areas in north-east England, close to a half in south-west England and nearly a third in Yorkshire and the Humber.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the success of Britain's vaccination programme made it possible to press ahead but that people should act responsibly.

“We must not be complacent or take the freedoms of today for granted,” he said.

“As we move away from government diktat, we enter a new stage, a new phase, where our response to the virus is with an emphasis on personal responsibility and corporate responsibility.”

Updated: July 19th 2021, 4:02 PM