Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco
Eight months after becoming the first head of state to contract the virus, Monaco's reigning sovereign, Prince Albert, tells PEOPLE he suffered episodes of sudden fatigue long after his quarantine ended.
After testing positive for COVID-19 in March, he spent two weeks in palace isolation. Upon returning home to his wife Princess Charlene and their 5-year-old twins after his quarantine ended on March 31, he retained a small cough but soon experienced different symptoms of the virus, which lasted into June.
Describing his initial infection as “a very mild case,” he admits that he suffered “moments of marked fatigue” well after his diagnosis.
"Immediately after my quarantine, I felt better, but I still didn't feel quite right,” Prince Albert tells PEOPLE.
Soon afterward he began experiencing intermittent fatigue. These regular episodes "absolutely lasted into June," he adds. "Not every day, but two, three times a week."
Sudden onset or lingering fatigue is the most commonly reported symptom among those experiencing long-term COVID-19 effects during recovery. According to the CDC, other symptoms may include continuing breathing difficulties, muscle or body aches and loss of memory or concentration.
"There were times during the day when it just hit, but not like the kind of drowsiness you feel after a heavy meal. It was really just an experience of physical fatigue, like the kind that comes on when you've done too much or when you're coming off an illness,” he explains. "This virus stays with you quite a while.”
Palais Princier/Eric Mathon Prince Albert, Princess Charlene and their twins
Amid lockdown, Albert says he "hasn't done a lot of Netflix, actually. Some old videos that I hadn't seen, but I been really trying to sort out stacks of things that I haven't had time for. A lot of reading up, some books, magazine articles, and catching up on my phone calls."
Currently on his nightstand is The Nature of Nature by Enric Sala, which he describes as an "incredible" book.
"It explains the different relationships between ecosystems and how everything is connected in simple terms and how we are part of nature," the longtime environmentalist says.
While France and neighboring Italy have struggled with a severe second wave this fall, Monaco's earlier imposed, more stringent public health actions and lockdown measures have greatly reduced the virus's effects in Monaco.
Overall, Albert is largely satisfied and encouraged, he tells PEOPLE.
"We have very low numbers. The latest report I received this morning is 18 people in hospital, only four in intensive care, and just one new case over the weekend," he says. "So those are pretty good numbers. The index, the number of people infected per population is one of — if not the lowest — in Europe, so we're holding on but we have to keep everybody in tow by keeping up with masks and other elements of social distancing and hand sanitizers."
"People have been pretty good at abiding by these principles, and, of course, we've increased our controls and fines for those who don't," he adds. "Things are going as well as they could and that's why we've been able to keep the restaurants and other commercial outlets open."
Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Monaco's royal family
As with the recent pared-down National Day ceremonies, there will be visible changes for the approaching holiday season celebrations, including additional security measures meant to discourage New Year's visitors.
"We're going to be very careful, very cautious," the prince says. "We're going to shut down the usual public places where people congregate on New Year's Eve — like the Casino Square and the quayside where we usually have the Christmas Market, which is a very reduced version this year."
Expressing "cautious" optimism over potential vaccines, Albert has "placed orders for the three different types of vaccines that are available," planning to "go ahead with the vaccination plan we have for Monaco," he says.
It is an ambitious plan which calls ultimately for all 37,000 residents to be vaccinated.
The inoculation schedule will begin as soon as French medical authorities complete their vaccine review.
"That should be sometime in January. We'll have everything in place when the green light is given," he assures.
Monaco's royal family
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What may require more time, he admits, is for the world to resume its ways.
"People have to be confident to travel again, to come walk around, get something in one of our shops," he says.
Asked whether he has been doing his own holiday shopping online, he pauses.
"A minimal amount," he says. "Let me tell you a side story: There's one little shop up here on the Rock that sells fragrances, housewares, little candles. All the shops in Monaco — but especially those up on Rock are struggling this year — so I decided to use as many as I could for my Christmas gifts.
"This one lady, well when we put in our order, she started crying and said, 'Thank you so much because without Christmas orders I would have to shut down.' So it's little things we can all do. I'm so happy I took that decision to keep the shops open — but also to help the local economy," he adds.
"There will be some damage, but thankfully there are solutions. It can and it will be mitigated if everyone helps and pitches in."