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The day before museums began closing in Britain, I saw Aubrey Beardsley at the Tate and Titian at the National Gallery. It was a strange experience, the power of the art undercut by the unsettling feeling that something deadly could be among us. “Don’t come too close to me,” I found myself thinking, or: “I can’t believe you’re coughing in public.” I wondered if it was wrong of me to even be there. With the words “global health emergency” ringing in my ears, I resolved not to leave the house again for pleasure. Soon, there was no choice anyway.
Those thoughts have resurfaced now that lockdown is easing and arts institutions face enormous pressure to reopen – and keep visitors safe. “The virus has produced a great deal of anxiety,” says Gabriel Scally, honorary professor of public health at the University of Bristol. “Coming out of lockdown, there are bound to be people whose psychological problems – OCD or agoraphobia – will be exacerbated by this. We need to make sure people can enter venues with confidence.”
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