Museums appear to have made little change to their Covid safety measures despite the easing of legal restrictions in England this week.
Many venues, including the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum in London, are still operating at reduced capacity and asking visitors to book tickets in advance to limit numbers, although they do accept walk-ups if space allows.
Some museums, including smaller institutions such as the Museum of Freemasonry in London, have dropped their requirement for timed entry tickets.
Most have changed the terminology they use in relation to mask wearing, but are continuing to recommend or encourage that visitors wear masks in enclosed spaces.
One museum director told Museums Journal that the dropping of restrictions has led to concern among staff, particularly younger front-of-house workers who are not yet fully vaccinated, about their own safety, as well as the difficulty of confronting visitors who refuse to adhere to restrictions. She said her museum had reassured staff that there would be no change to its existing safety measures or messaging as a result.
Sector organisations have urged museums and galleries to prioritise public safety under the new rules.
Museums Association director Sharon Heal said: “As restrictions are lifted in England 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.”
The National Museum Directors’ Council has updated its reopening guidance to state that, while face coverings are no longer required by law, “the government expects and recommends that people should continue to wear them in crowded and enclosed settings, to protect themselves and others”.
The guidance also advises museums to continue to collect visitor contact details for NHS Test and Trace, although this is no longer a legal requirement.
Arts Council England (ACE) has called on cultural venues to ensure an inclusive reopening that gives “disabled and clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) colleagues, performers and visitors the support and flexibility they need to take advantage of reopening like everyone else”.
The arts council says that now that more discretion is allowed, it is expecting organisations “to take steps to ensure this is the case”.
In guidance published last week, it stated: “In considering which measures to maintain, organisations should consider the specific needs of disabled and CEV people. We strongly recommend talking with disabled and CEV employees, creative practitioners and audiences if you are not clear about their needs in relation to your organisation at this time.”
The arts council says it will provide further guidance and spotlight good practice in the coming weeks.
ACE chair Nicholas Serota said: “As the lights are switched back on in venues, the principle of inclusivity must be applied in organisations. Our ambition is that the sector that emerges from the pandemic is one that offers talent from all quarters the chance to succeed, one that embraces audiences from all backgrounds, and one that endeavours for its performance and exhibition spaces to be accessible to all.”