Museums and galleries are weighing up their options on Covid safety measures as the UK nations prepare to ease restrictions.
Subject to one final review next week, England is planning to drop almost all legal measures on 19 July, when mandatory social distancing, face mask wearing and limits on gatherings will come to an end.
Scotland is due to move to Covid level 0 on 19 July and lift all final legal restrictions by 9 August. Northern Ireland plans to ease more Covid restrictions on 26 July, including relaxing social distancing rules from 2m to 1m indoors. Wales will review its measures on 15 July.
But there is apprehension in the museum sector as the end of restrictions comes into sight. An analysis published by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva) last week showed that a significant majority of the visitor attraction-going public (75%) “are not yet ready for social distancing and other measures to be removed or eased” – a proportion that has remained unchanged since the end of April.
Alva said that many venues “have decided to be guided by their visitors’ own sentiment and levels of caution” and plan to retain some discretionary measures until at least the end of August.
These include maintaining reduced capacity at sites in order to avoid crowds; maintaining the requirement for visitors to book at most times, especially at weekends, while also allowing some time slots to be available for walk-ups; maintaining social distancing on site, though this may be reduced to 1m rather than 2m; and keeping the requirement for visitors to wear a face mask indoors unless they are exempt.
Venues will be able to set their own rules on safety measures as a prerequisite to entry, but these will not be enforceable by law after restrictions ease.
Museums Association director Sharon Heal urged museums to “put the interests of staff, volunteers and visitors first” as they consider how to adapt.
She said: “If restrictions are lifted, museums might want to retain some measures voluntarily such as mask wearing, extra hygiene procedures and social distancing, depending on their local context. In all cases museums should put the interests of staff, volunteers and visitors first and make sure that all appropriate measures are taken to ensure everyone’s safety on site.”
Lisa Ollerhead, director of the Association of Independent Museums (AIM), said: “We understand there will be a range of views across our member museums, their staff, volunteers and their visitors on the lifting of restrictions. We already know some will be maintaining the use of face masks indoors, for example.
“What should be a constant though is the need to listen to and understand staff, volunteer, and audience feelings, concerns, and ideas in deciding which measures may be best to continue and which to lift in ensuring a safe and enjoyable environment for all. AIM will support all its members in their own decisions on how to manage opening, including backing sites which choose to retain face coverings as a condition of entry, or which need to keep restricting numbers to ensure visitors and staff have space inside.
“At AIM we are talking to sector colleagues to update the reopening guidance we produced with the National Museum Directors’ Council and Museum Development last year to account for the new position, and we welcome feedback from members on the further support we can provide.”
Alva’s visitor sentiment research, which was undertaken by Decision House, also found that confidence is growing and anxiety around using facilities falling, with many of those who said they were “waiting to see what happens” in April – accounting for around 40% of all visitors – now reporting that they are ready to visit.
But 60% still express fear or concerns about visiting, especially on measures to limit crowds and maintain distancing.