Museums face ‘moment of great vulnerability’ as Covid restrictions return - Museums Association

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Museums face ‘moment of great vulnerability’ as Covid restrictions return

Introduction of new measures spells another challenging winter for the sector
Profile image for Geraldine Kendall Adams
Geraldine Kendall Adams
Face coverings have been made compulsory at museums and galleries in England once more. Pictured: National Gallery
Face coverings have been made compulsory at museums and galleries in England once more. Pictured: National Gallery National Gallery

The museum sector is facing a “moment of great vulnerability” as Covid restrictions tighten again without previous financial support measures in place.

New “Plan B” regulations were announced in England this week to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, while the devolved governments have refused to rule out further restrictions in the weeks ahead if cases surge as predicted.

“New Covid restrictions in England and lower visitor confidence across the UK mean that this will be another very challenging winter for museums,” said MA policy manager Alistair Brown. “This comes at a moment of great vulnerability for the sector – when furlough has ended and emergency funding is coming to an end, but without a return to normal business conditions.

“The MA has spoken with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and devolved governments this week about our concerns and we will continue to make the case for appropriate support from government throughout the Covid crisis. We are also urging members to contact us with any concerns or new information about the impact of the latest wave of Covid so that we can advocate as effectively as possible on the sector’s behalf.”

Plan B measures in England include:

  • A requirement for people to work from home where possible from Monday 13 December, as well as compulsory face coverings in most indoor venues, including museums and galleries, from 10 December. Hospitality settings remain exempt from face covering regulations.
  • A requirement for people to show proof of vaccination or a negative lateral flow test via their NHS Covid Pass before entering venues where large crowds gather, including unseated indoor events with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor events with more than 4,000 people and all events with more than 10,000 people. This will come into force on Wednesday 15 December.
  • Everyone urged to take regular lateral flow tests, particularly before entering high-risk settings involving people they wouldn’t normally be in contact with, or when visiting a vulnerable person.
  • Instead of self-isolation, daily tests will be introduced for contacts of a positive Covid case in order to minimise disruption.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already have the majority of restrictions introduced in England under Plan B.

In a briefing today, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was “virtually certain” that there would be a surge of cases in the coming weeks driven by the Omicron variant. She did not rule out bringing in further restrictions in response.

Currently, the Scottish Government is asking people to work from home where possible and has urged workers to postpone their office Christmas parties.

In addition to restrictions already in place in Wales, the Welsh Government is “strongly advising” people to take a lateral flow test before going out, and to wear face coverings in hospitality settings when they’re not eating or drinking.

The top medical advisors to the Northern Ireland Executive have also not ruled out further measures to slow the spread of the virus, saying restrictions such as social distancing may need to be reintroduced in January.  

Emergency funding

The latest round of the Arts Council England Culture Recovery Fund supports cultural organisations in England that were financially sustainable before Covid-19 but are now at imminent risk of failure and have exhausted all other options for increasing their resilience.

This is a rolling programme and applications can be submitted until 28 January 2022. Decisions will be communicated within six weeks, where possible.

Apply via the Arts Council England website.

The Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage – Emergency Resource Support, run by the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF), is open until 11 January. It supports heritage organisations and businesses in England at imminent risk of failure.

Apply via the NLHF website.

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