museums reopening

England’s museums and galleries to reopen as PM relaxes social distancing measures

Article: David Styles | Image: © Alistair Wettin (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Museums and art galleries are among a plethora of institutions given the go ahead to reopen next month, in an announcement made today by the prime minister.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Boris Johnson confirmed the reduction of social distancing restrictions from two metres to one – a step which means thousands of businesses can once again welcome visitors in a way that is deemed safe and financially viable. This will come into effect from 4th July.

The PM explained that the “cautious relaxation of the guidance is entirely conditional” and will depend on how the public adhere to new rules.

Giving museums and galleries – along with cinemas, bars and restaurants – the green light to reopen is the latest stage of the governmental response to a perceived drop in the Covid-19 threat level. Guidelines for businesses to best protect visitors and employees will be published later today.

The announcement is, however, only relevant for English sites, with measures remaining predominantly unchanged in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The devolved governments of Scotland and Wales are nevertheless said to be reviewing similar actions in the coming weeks.

Some heritage attractions with open air facilities have already been open to the public, with the National Trust among the organisations to implement new mandatory pre-booking systems to help with social distancing and other safety measures.

The retail sector reopened in England on 15th June, with business secretary Alok Sharma explaining that all shops, department stores and shopping centres were free to trade “provided they put in place the necessary steps to keep their workers and customers safe”.

Museums are understandably eager to salvage as much of the lucrative summer season as possible, particularly after missing out on the Easter school holidays.

Many cultural attractions throughout the UK have been left “struggling to see a route out of this crisis, even once the lockdown is lifted,” according to Andrew Lovett, chair of the Association of Independent Museums; so even this latest step from government is no guarantee of survival for the entire sector.

The 4th July date for museums to relaunch puts England around one month behind many European nations, with major arts venues on the continent having reopened at the beginning of this month. 1st June, for instance, saw the Guggenheim in Bilbao reopen its doors – having implemented safety measures such as visitor temperature checks, advance timed-ticketing, cash no longer being accepted, and the wearing of face masks being mandatory.

The relaxation of lockdown measures across Europe will remain under review in individual nations, with any peaks in infection rates – such as have been evident following an outbreak at a meat processing plant in Germany – leading to a return to stricter restrictions.