Possible Timeline for Museum Reopening

On the 11th May, the UK Government published Our plan to rebuild: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy.  This strategy sets out a cautious roadmap to easing existing measures in a safe and measured way, subject to successfully controlling the virus and being able to monitor and react to its spread. The roadmap will be kept constantly under review as the epidemic, and the world’s understanding of it, develops.

The Recovery Strategy also stated that, from the 4th July - and subject to the science and with Covid-19 secure guidelines in place - it is government’s intention that the businesses and premises which remain closed will be able to begin reopening.  This category of ‘public places, hospitality and leisure businesses’ includes museums. On 23rd June the Prime Minister announced that the UK is on schedule and museums can open in principle from 4th July.

It is likely that museum openings will happen in waves, as reopening becomes more viable for different types of organisation across the sector.  Therefore, there is no date on which museums must open, each will make the decision based on public health advice, safety, financial security and local context.

Coronavirus (Covid-19) NMDC Good Practice Guidelines on the Reopening of Museums after July 4, 2020 is specifically for museums in England, though museums in other devolved nations will likely find it useful. There will be separate approaches to guidance, and timelines for  museum opening in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The Northern Ireland Executive has published the ‘Executive Approach to Decision Making’ where museums and galleries are outlined to reopen in Step 3.

The Scottish Government published a ‘Framework for Decision Making’ indicating museums will feature in Phase 3, in the same bracket as schools. 

The Welsh Government includes museums and galleries under the ‘amber’ phase of reopening in ‘Unlocking our society and economy’ 


June (Stage 2)

Government advice: non-essential retail able to open from 15 June; some primary age children return to school

23rd June: Government announced that museums can open from 4th July. Throughout June, museums that are planning for a July opening will begin adaptation processes, bring some of the workforce back from furlough, ‘switch on’ machinery and conduct testing of systems, receive deliveries and adapt spaces.


Government advice: from 4th July more leisure businesses can open including museums.

From July,  museums are permitted to reopen though opening will be based on ensuring this works for both a museum’s operating model and local context*, for example museums where low capacities are manageable or where manageable modifications to environments need to be made and the museums business case supports it.

Some museums will prepare for reopening with greatly reduced capacity throughout July and August – some sites will open to test processes, while others remain closed. It is not anticipated that museums will open simultaneously as museums operate in different contexts and depend upon local variables.

Although Government guidance states shops are able to open before 4 July, museums will need to consider the opening of their café and retail areas within the context of the wider site and adapt the offer if necessary.

Museums may also need to work to longer term timelines for running any events, and refer specifically to the most relevant guidance based on the type of event e.g. for events and entertainment.

*Civic museums and university museums, as well as those linked intrinsically to local tourist economies will work in tune with their local context, as museums play a role in supporting local economies and recovery – this could mean they open early or late in terms of Government ‘steps’. Timelines will vary from place to place, local authority museum reopening may also be impacted by redeployment of staff to front line services.


It is anticipated that more museums will prepare for reopening in August and those already open may increase capacity / number of sites in operation depending on successful testing.

September / October

Museums that are not able to begin to open in August may look at a potential opening in September / October.

However, for some museums, reopening in the low season won’t be financially possible, and therefore the decision to remain closed for longer may be taken.

The Job Retention Scheme is due to continue until the end of October.

Winter 2020

Subject to moving successfully through steps of lockdown, museums that have been testing systems and processes may open further sites and other museums may open for the first time.

Spring 2021

Museums that were unable to open in the autumn / winter may wait until spring 2021 to reopen.