Can I go to a museum? What the tier system means for art lovers

What impact will new restrictions have on galleries and museums in tiers 1, 2, 3 and 4?

Can I still go to a museum are museums open closed london covid rules
The National Gallery reopened on 3 December Credit: Peter Summers

Following the announcement on December 30, most areas of England entered Tier 4, the highest level of restrictions.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland's lockdown restrictions from December 26, which prohibits the mixing of households both indoors and outside, remains in place. 

In Tiers 3 and 4, all museums and galleries must close, essentially creating another lockdown for the industry.

So what does the new tier system mean for you? What art can you see, and who can you go with?

Can I visit a museum?

Tier 1

The ‘rule of six’ is still in force across all tiers. This means that you will only be able to meet up to five others in any indoor or outdoor setting. This includes museums and art galleries. 

There are capacity limits for all indoor and outdoor events, too. Venues will only be able to open with 50 per cent capacity or 1,000 people indoors - whichever is lower. Space will be severely limited, especially at popular exhibitions. Booking far in advance is essential. Masks must be worn. 

Art lovers are encouraged not to travel between tiers, except for purposes of work, education, caring responsibilities or medical treatment. If you live in a higher-tier area, then tough luck: you won’t be able to travel to a lower-tier one to amble through a gallery, or catch an exhibition. 

Tier 2 

The same restrictions as tier 1 apply - with some additions. ‘Rule of six’ is in place. But you will not be able to socialise with anyone you don’t live with or are in a support bubble with, in any indoor setting. Surreptitious 'bumping into' friends once inside is not encouraged. 

There are also rules around the sale of food and drink. Cafés and restaurants will be table service only if they serve alcohol. Though they will have to switch to takeaway if they stay open past 10pm. 

The British Museum, pictured just before the first lockdown Credit: Rick Findler

Tier 3 

Despite being reserved for areas with very high, or rapidly rising areas of infection, non-essential shops can stay open. The example of Liverpool, which moved from tier 3 to tier 2, provides some hope that areas might be able to shrug off the most draconian policies if their infection rates start to fall. London will join this tier from midnight, December 15.

However, in this tier, all indoor entertainment venues must close. Museums, galleries, theatres and concert halls will go dark. The restrictions also apply to indoor facilities in mostly outdoor venues, such as sculpture parks, botanical gardens and landmarks. 

You are also discouraged from staying ‘unnecessary’ trips outside of your tier area, including overnight trips. In addition, as with tier two, you bring your tier restrictions with you. So illicit breaching of county lines to get your museum fix is a no-no. 

Tier 4

Under Tier 4 restrictions, non-essential shops must close and people must stay at home or in their own garden at all times, apart for reasonable excuses such as work, essential shopping or education. 

Therefore, under Tier 4 restrictions, all entertainment venues must close, including museums, cinemas and drive-thru events.