The Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst in Antwerp. Photo: Wikipedia.

Belgian and Italian Museums Set Reopening Dates for Mid-May

Arts institutions in Belgium and Italy will reopen in mid-May as part of the countries’ plans to lift lockdown measures that were enforced to contain Covid-19. Belgium’s National Security Council and the Italian prime minister have given museums permission to reopen from May 18 onward.

According to Bloomberg, Belgium’s partial lockdown prevented the health-care system from collapsing—at the peak of its outbreak earlier this month, four out of ten beds remained vacant in intensive care units across the country. With a population of 11.4 million, Belgium has more than 46,600 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and has reported over 7,200 deaths at the time of publication. 

Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès is allowing all shops to open their doors again beginning May 11, with schools to reopen the following week. Bars and restaurants will remain closed until at least June 8. In a press briefing on Friday, Wilmès cautioned that “we have never before tried out an exit strategy like this. Nothing will be carved in marble, especially not the target dates.” The timeframe of the reopening of the economy will be set by the rate at which Covid-19 cases continue to fall.

The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels will reopen its Old Masters Museum on May 19, and its other collections will follow. The Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst (MHKA) in Antwerp has also announced that it will open its doors on May 19.

Bart De Baere, director of the MHKA, said in a statement: “Museums are like parks; spaces in which the individual experience can intertwine with the public space of being together. In the coming months, as a society, we face the challenge to find a new, positive balance between personal freedom and care for our relationship with others. We, at the MHKA, are ready to serve as a test room for that post-lock down experience.”

Italy, which became the first European epicenter for the virus and recorded more than 197,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, as well as a death toll of 26,644, will permit construction and manufacturing to start up again on May 4. While bars, restaurants, and barbers have been given a tentative reopening date of June 1, Italians will be able to visit relatives and parks and order take-out food once again.

Italian arts spaces will welcome visitors as long as they are wearing masks, but they will cap the number of visitors allowed entry. Libraries and other cultural venues will also open, but cinemas, theaters, and concert halls will remain closed. 

“Responsible behavior by each one of us will be fundamental,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in a live broadcast, warning that if Italians fail to take precautions such as social distancing, the curve of infections “will rise again, the deaths will mount, and we will have irreversible damage to our economy. . . . If you love Italy, keep your distance.”