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.
We will not forget! To close @DickensMuseum at Christmas is to rip the heart out of what is left of the carcass of this country... @DCMS @MayorofLondon Where is the lifeline for all of the places that make life worth living? https://t.co/SztG8TKaAa— Dr Cindy Sughrue (@CindySughrue) December 15, 2020
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.