0640 GMT January 29, 2022
The government announced a requirement for all people to self-isolate for 10 days after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for the Omicron variant, regardless of vaccine status. Some museums are making contingency plans for their Christmas rotas, fearing a return to the staff shortages caused by self-isolation rules earlier this year.
Museums and galleries in England are also taking a tougher stance on COVID safety measures in light of the new restrictions, museumsassociation.org reported.
Face coverings have not been legally required in most public spaces in England since July, but some museums are making changes in response to the reintroduction of mandatory masks in retail and public transport settings, which came into force today.
The requirement covers museum shops, but not other museum spaces or hospitality settings such as sit-down cafes.
Although most museums have continued to maintain COVID safety measures since legal restrictions were dropped, many are starting to firm up their requirements and messaging.
Museums are able to set their own discretionary rules on face coverings as a prerequisite to entry, though these are not enforceable by law.
The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge is among the institutions to make masks and social distancing mandatory in light of the Omicron variant.
The Fashion and Textile Museum said: “In light of recent changes in regulations, face coverings are required in all public areas of the museum.”
Yorkshire Air Museum wrote: “With mask wearing becoming a mandatory requirement again in both shops and public transport as of today (November 30), we ask that visitors to the museum wear a suitable mask in all indoors areas.”
Liz Power, director of London Museum of Water & Steam, tweeted that the museum may also reintroduce social distancing requirements: “We have a three-step plan, bringing in step one, being firmer on masks, signs back out, testing for staff/volunteers and our own rule that any staff with COVID in their house stays home. Step two is about social distancing if we need it.”
The V&A asks visitors to wear face coverings inside the building at all times, unless exempt.
Other institutions are continuing to encourage visitors to wear face coverings rather than making them mandatory. The National Gallery has updated its website to say: “A face covering must be worn in our shops and we encourage you to wear one throughout your visit.”
The British Museum says: “Unless you’re exempt, face coverings are mandatory in museum shops and recommended elsewhere in the museum.”
Face coverings remain mandatory in museums in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The new measures are expected to be in place for at least three weeks.