VATICAN CITY — The Vatican Museums are preparing to reopen by reservation only with new health measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to the general secretary of Vatican City State.
“For the incoming public, we are completing the installation of some thermal scanners for detecting temperature,” Bishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga said in an interview published May 9 by L’Osservatore Romano.
“Clearly, it will not be possible to welcome large groups for a long time,” he said.
Entrance to the museums will only be possible via prior reservation to limit the number of people in the museum and stagger entrance times, and all visitors will be required to wear a mask.
The Vatican Museums have been closed for nine weeks since the Italian government announced the closure of all museums and archaeological sites throughout the country on March 8.
Throughout Italy’s lockdown, the Vatican Museums maintained only essential services requiring about 30 employees, Vergez said, noting that the museums normally employee nearly 1,000 people as administrators, restorers, art historians, and ticket agents etc.
Bishop Vergez said that all Vatican Museums employees have continued to receive their salaries during the closure at the insistence of Pope Francis, while non-urgent expenses were immediately cut.
“Over the past two weeks, we have slowly started to resume other activities. We need above all to give our staff time to get used to the new safety protocols,” he said.
“We have activated health protocols for staff: body temperature is measured on arrival and gloves and masks have been delivered,” he added.
Under “phase two” of Italy’s coronavirus restrictions, museums in Italy will be allowed to reopen their doors beginning May 18, but the Vatican official said that the Vatican Museums have yet to commit to an exact date of reopening.
“If one thing this pandemic taught us is that we should avoid making predictions that go beyond two days,” he joked.
The Vatican Museums receive millions of visitors each year, and generated around $87 million annually as of 2015, half of which was surplus revenue for Vatican City, according to the Economist. In the months that the museums have been closed due to the pandemic, Vatican City has likely lost millions of dollars in revenue.
Due to ongoing travel restrictions, the first visitors to the reopened Vatican Museums will likely be local Romans, rather than the usual tourists.
To accommodate local visitors, Vergez said that the museum administration is considering changing opening hours to encourage afternoon and evening visits, especially over the weekend.
“I would like this moment of difficulty to turn into an opportunity,” he said, encouraging Italian families to visit the museums and the Vatican gardens.
He noted that the museum and gardens at the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo will also be reopening.
“The weekend … could become an ideal opportunity to seize the extraordinary opportunity to visit the summer residence of the popes and the splendid Gardens of Villa Barberini. The hot and beautiful sun of these days seems to invite us to this!” Vergez said.