Natural History Museum and Edinburgh Castle closed by Covid

Surge in cases among staff causes closure of several museums during busy school holiday period

At least five national attractions including the Natural History Museum and Edinburgh Castle have closed because of the surge in Covid cases.

The start of the Christmas school holidays is usually one of the busiest times at the Natural History Museum but it will be closed from Tuesday “due to an unforeseen staff shortage”.

Other museums closed because of Covid include London’s Wellcome Collection in Euston, the National Army Museum in Chelsea, and the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. The British Museum remains open but warned visitors that some galleries may have to close at short notice.

The Natural History Museum, the second most visited museum in the UK after Tate Modern, said it would remain closed for at least a week.

The Museum at South Kensington will be closed from 21-27 December, due to an unforeseen staff shortage.
We plan to reopen on Tuesday 28 December.
You can also book new tickets for a future date on our website.

— Natural History Museum (@NHM_London) December 20, 2021

“We have made the difficult decision to close our South Kensington site from Tuesday 21 December due to front-of-house staff shortages which have been affected by Covid-19 infections and isolation requirements. This is not a decision we have taken lightly but the safety of staff and visitors must always come first,” it said.

“If you have bought tickets for wildlife photographer of the year or Fantastic Beasts: the Wonder of Nature for these dates, these will be cancelled and refunded. If you have bought tickets to one of our events we will email you with further information.”

The museum’s ice rink, operating outside the building this year for the last time, will remain open.

Edinburgh Castle, the second most visited attraction in Scotland, announced a temporary closure on Sunday that remains in place.

In a series of tweets, it said: “We are sorry to let you know that we will temporarily close the castle as of 4pm today [Sunday] following a number of staff members testing positive for coronavirus. All members of staff identified are now self-isolating.”

On Friday the Wellcome Collection in Euston, north London, announced it was also having to close until further notice after a surge of cases.

Due to the increasing Covid-19 risk, we will be closing to staff and visitors from Friday 17 December at 18.00 until further notice. We'll continue to monitor the situation and government advice, and keep you updated here and on our website.

— Wellcome Collection (@ExploreWellcome) December 17, 2021

The Foundling Museum said it had taken the “difficult decision” to close over the Christmas period and would not open again until 4 January. The National Army Museum said would be closed until 5 January “due to the impact of Covid-19”.

The Museum Association’s journal reported that many museums had postponed or cancelled events and were rethinking their plans for the new year. A source at an unnamed London museum said it was struggling to keep all of its galleries open after a Covid outbreak among staff.

The source was quoted as saying: “It feels a bit irresponsible for us to still be open and interacting with the public as some have tested negative lateral flow in the morning then positive halfway through their work day. We are dropping like flies and I really don’t see how they stay open for the next week.”

The closure of museums comes as theatres have had to cancel performances during the festive period, which usually generates about a third of their income.

As Omicron cases continue to rise, the government is considering “circuit break” restrictions which could include closing indoor entertainment venues again. But many theatres – including the National Theatre and the Young Vic – have already postponed shows to allow cast, crew and front of house staff to isolate.

Of the 46 full members of the Society of London Theatre that had shows running this weekend, 22 cancelled their performances. They included huge tourist attractions such as Hamilton, Matilda, Wicked, The Lion King, and Cinderella.

Theatre producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh said the industry was in a “dreadful state”. “It’s literally day-to-day. We spend all morning trying to work out if we can do the show or not,” Mackintosh told BBC News. Bookings for the first part of 2022 were also well below expectations, he added, which was “really worrying” for the industry.

“We’ve all used our reserves to get the shows back up,” he said. “We are in a dreadful state at the moment and desperately need the government to help commercial theatre going through the next few weeks.”

Sadly, due to extensive Covid disruption affecting our company, front of house, production and staff teams, we have taken the difficult decision to cancel all performances of Best of Enemies up until 3 January. The Cut bar will also be closed for this period.

— Young Vic (@youngvictheatre) December 20, 2021

Theatres have told the Guardian they have been left “in crisis mode”, “on a knife-edge” and “terrified” of what the next weeks will bring. Many believe the industry is in its most precarious position, even after almost two years of uncertainty.

Arts union Equity has called on the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to take action to protect workers in the creative industries, saying the current situation threatened “the fragile return of live performances”.

Sharon Heal, director of the Museums Association, said: “Omicron has had an impact on museum staff because it is so transmissive. A large proportion of people who work in museums work in public facing positions, so they are vulnerable to picking up Covid.”

She said the closures are likely to have hit museum’s finances. Heal said: “Christmas and Easter are the two big seasons for museums in terms of visitors, events and retail. And all of that is going to be adversely affected by the new variant. We would like to see some recognition from government that museums are being hit and that funding is needed.”


Matthew Weaver

The GuardianTramp

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