As governments across the globe scramble to stem Covid-19 surges caused by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, arts institutions are facing the prospect of another lockdown. Museums in Denmark and the Netherlands will close until mid-January, further straining a cultural sector which had only begun to financially recover resulting from nearly two years of sporadic closures and limited capacity. Meanwhile, some U.K. art spaces have also begun to shutter.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced in a press conference Saturday night that all non-essential businesses would close until January 14. The head of the Dutch public health institute, Jaap van Dissel, said the shutdown would “buy time” for more people to get booster vaccines and for the health care system to prepare for a surge in infections. World-class museums like the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk Museum, and the van Gogh Museum closed as a result of the lockdown.
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“I stand here tonight in a somber mood. And a lot of people watching will feel that way. To sum it up in one sentence, the Netherlands will go back into lockdown from tomorrow,” Rutte said, according to the BBC. “I can now hear the whole of the Netherlands sighing. This is exactly one week before Christmas, another Christmas that is completely different from what we would like.”
Earlier that weekend, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen also announced the closure of all public venues, including cinemas, museums and art galleries until mid-January. “Our goal is still to keep as large sections of society open as possible,” she said. “We need to curb activity. We all need to limit our social contacts.”
No sweeping lockdown was announced in the U.K. , but already, some institutions have begun shutting down in there.
The Natural History Museum in London was forced to close until December 27 due to an “unforeseen staff shortage caused by COVID-19” according to a statement posted on Twitter. The Camden Art Centre, which announced similar staff shortages on Instagram, will be closed indefinitely from December 21. The Wellcome Collection and the Foundling Museum have also decided to close.
Representatives for the Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate, the Royal Academy of Arts, and the British Museum all said that their respective institutions plan to continue normal operations. A spokesperson for the Tate told ARTnews that the museum network is “continuing to monitor the situation closely and [is] following latest government guidance.”
Major institutions in New York, which has reported three straight days of record cases, likewise plan to stay open. U.S. public health officials are advising against indoor gatherings, but they have not issued restrictions on businesses. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and others are currently open with safety measures in place for visitors, with proof of vaccines required for entry and a mandated use of masks.