Museums in London start to shut down as Omicron wave sweeps capital

Natural History Museum closes due to front-of-house staff shortages caused by Covid-19

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The Natural History Museum in London has closed its doors untill 27 December due to rising Covid-19 case numbers linked the Omicron variant. Courtesy of Trustees of the Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum in London has closed its doors untill 27 December due to rising Covid-19 case numbers linked the Omicron variant. Courtesy of Trustees of the Natural History Museum

The latest wave of Covid-19 in the UK, sparked by the Omicron variant, is starting to take its toll on museums in London with the Natural History Museum closing its doors until 27 December due to “an unforeseen staff shortage”. The institution had to make the “difficult decision” to shut after front-of-house staff were “impacted by Covid-19 infections and isolation requirements”, a statement says. Museum officials say they plan to reopen 28 December when they “hope that staffing levels will have recovered”. 

On 17 December, London’s Wellcome Collection, which focuses on the links between science and art, announced that it would close until further notice as a result of the Covid-19 surge in the UK. The institution's website will be updated with further details. The Foundling Museum has also closed until 4 January while the National Army Museum in Chelsea has also decided to shut down over the festive period "due to the impact of Covid-19".

Meanwhile, according to Museums Journal, an unnamed, large London museum is struggling to keep all of its galleries open following a Covid outbreak among staff. “We’re dropping like flies, I really don’t see how they stay open for the next week,” said an anonymous staff member.

At the time of writing, general admission tickets could however still be booked this week for the Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate, the Royal Academy and the British Museum. A spokeswoman for the British Museum says that there are “no closures planned for us at this stage; we’re keeping everything under constant review at this time.” The Serpentine Galleries also remain open.

The instability in the culture sector prompted by the latest coronavirus wave has prompted calls for more financial support from the UK government as museums and galleries face further falls in admission revenue. 

Caroline Norbury, the chief executive of the lobbying organisation Creative UK, says in a statement that “the uncertainty and instability for these institutions as they move into 2022 will undoubtedly be felt throughout the sector, with questions marks over exhibitions and performances leading to a loss of work for artists, performers and other creative practitioners”.

UPDATE: Sir John Soane's Museum in London has also decided to close early before Christmas and hopes to reopen 29 December. Meanwhile, Camden Art Centre will be closed from today due to Covid-19-related staff shortages.

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