London museums and galleries close amid criticism of 'bizarre' Tier 3 rules - Museums Association

London museums and galleries close amid criticism of ‘bizarre’ Tier 3 rules

No recorded cases of virus being transmitted at a UK visitor attraction, says Alva director
The V&A is among the museums that has had to close again this week
The V&A is among the museums that has had to close again this week Photographer Trisan Fewings (c) Getty

The UK Government has come under criticism over its decision to force museums and galleries in England’s Tier 3 areas to close while allowing close-contact venues such as gyms to remain open.

Just weeks after reopening following the November lockdown, cultural institutions in London, as well as parts of Hertfordshire and Essex, shut their doors until further notice yesterday as those areas move into Tier 3, the highest level of Covid restrictions.

The head of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, Bernard Donoghue, said it was “bizarre” that facilities such as saunas could stay open while museums have been told to close.

Speaking to Times Radio this morning, Donoghue said he had asked the government for “epidemiological evidence which shows that visitor attractions are less safe than shopping centres”, describing the situation as “utterly illogical”.

He said visitor attractions were being disproportionately affected by Tier 3 closure. The rules will not be reviewed again until January, meaning institutions in those areas will miss out on the critical Christmas season.

“The government always says that it’s science-led, but we know from Public Health England that there have been no recorded cases of coronavirus being transmitted at a visitor attraction in the UK so they’re proven to be Covid-safe venues, and that’s why we can’t understand why they need to close,” he said.


Donoghue said cultural institutions had worked hard to ensure a safe visitor experience, with advance booking, managed physical distancing, and “massively reduced” numbers.

He added: “We just want those businesses who have done the right thing to be supported and recognised and those businesses that haven’t to come under the full weight of the restrictions.”

The Museums Association has also called on the government to review the tier system. A letter sent by the association to health secretary Matt Hancock ahead of the introduction of the rules on 2 December said: “We believe there is a strong case for reclassifying museums and allowing them to open in Tier 3 areas.”

Cultural institutions that have had to close under the latest restrictions include London nationals such as the Science Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), National Gallery and Tate Modern, as well as many smaller institutions such as the Charles Dickens Museum, the Postal Museum and Dulwich Picture Gallery.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has called on the government to provide further support for the city's cultural sector. He said: “2020 has been a dismal year for our once-thriving hospitality sector and world-famous cultural scene, which both contribute billions to our economy and attract millions of visitors. Without protecting them, there can be no meaningful recovery.”

Covid restrictions on museums vary across the UK. All museums and galleries in Wales – including their outdoor grounds – are now closed after a significant spike in cases.

But in Scotland, the 11 local authorities that had been under the nation’s tightest Level 4 restrictions – including Glasgow – have been downgraded to Level 3, meaning visitor attractions in those areas can reopen. Museums and galleries in Northern Ireland were also given the go-ahead to reopen last week after a six-week lockdown.

Comments (5)

  1. Nat Edwards says:

    It’s great to see people are waking up to the irrational and illiberal decision to close museums during Tier 3 restrictions – but a little galling that it has taken closure of London Museums to prompt the outcry. There seemed to be few voices raised alongside the Museums Association when they first raised this a couple of weeks ago – and when it mostly affected museums across the North. As I have repeated tediously to anyone who will listen, museums could be part of the solution in this pandemic – but clearly our Government sees them as part of the problem (unlike massage parlours, apparently – but then a lot of tired MPs would have nowhere left to go to discuss Ugandan affairs after long sessions in the House). C’mon Boris – give us back our culture

    1. Rebecca Walton says:

      Completely agree – feels a bit late in the day for Museums Association to raise this concern when museums in the North have been feeling the strain of the new lockdown restrictions since November.

      1. Geraldine Kendall Adams says:

        Hi Rebecca,
        The MA has been lobbying for the Tier 3 rules to be reviewed since they were announced in November:

  2. Martin Sach says:

    Of course it is utterly bizarre and over-the-top as part of a panic reaction. Anyone who reads PHE statistics from Track and Trace – about the only useful thing that T and T does – can see that the majority of transmission is in the home. So government policy is to oblige people to spend more time…. in the home! Covid secure restaurants, pubs, and cultural attractions are very probably safer places to be than with your own household at home. Any by the way London doesn’t have a “surge” in cases, it has a modest increase and the capital’s hospitals are a long way off being overwhelmed. And we only need to look at Wales to see what happens when a policy of endless restrictions is applied – things go from bad to worse!!

  3. Catherine Nisbet says:

    Many museums in the West Midlands have been similarly affected andwith no idea when we can open again.

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