The UK Museums Association publishes open letter on England’s Covid-19 restrictions

In response to new Covid-19 restrictions in England on 2 December 2020, the Museums Association has written a letter to the UK Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, requesting a review of the decision to close museums and galleries in the so-called Tier 3 areas.

The letter reads:

“Dear Secretary of State,

I am writing on behalf of the Museums Association, the main representative body for museums across the UK, regarding restrictions under the new Covid Tier system that has been introduced across England this week.

The new Covid Tier system classes museums as ‘Indoor Entertainment Venues’. This means that museums in Tier 3 areas will be required to close to the public. With so much of the country designated as Tier 3, this is a huge blow to the museum sector, particularly at a time when many museums are just beginning to rebuild their activities and their audiences following the March-July lockdown.

Our members fully recognise the severity of the Covid-19 crisis and welcome the government’s efforts to contain the virus, and the additional government support that has been made available. However, we urge you to review the decision to close museums in Tier 3 areas at the earliest opportunity. Since reopening in the summer, museums have followed government guidance and developed strict Covid-secure regimes. These systems have worked well and there is no evidence that museums pose an elevated risk of increasing transmission of Covid-19.

We believe there is a strong case for reclassifying museums and allowing them to open in Tier 3 areas. Unlike many other ‘Indoor Entertainment Venues’, museums have demonstrated that they are able to maintain social distancing through the use of limited capacity, pre-booking, one-way systems, gallery invigilation and clear and consistent communication with visitors. In terms of the use of indoor space and the safety procedures that are in place, we believe that museums have far more in common with libraries, which are classed as ‘Public Buildings’ and are allowed to remain open in Tier 3, than with many of the other venues listed in the ‘Indoor Entertainment Venue’ list.

Furthermore, there is a tangible health and wellbeing benefit to keeping museums open. This has been reflected in the overwhelmingly positive response from visitors returning to museums and galleries during the summer and autumn. For many, the opportunity to visit a museum or gallery has provided respite after long periods of social isolation. Such moments will be all the more necessary over the winter period.

We recognise that the government is having to make difficult decisions during the Covid-19 crisis. However, we believe there is a clear case for revisiting the decision to close museums and galleries in Tier 3 areas and we urge you to reconsider this matter.

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with your department further.

Yours sincerely,

Sharon Heal
Director, Museums Association”