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As COVID-19 cases continue to rise sharply in the United States, the Trump administration has begun signaling its desire for daily life and the economy to return to normal as soon as possible. But while effective containment strategies in China and especially South Korea have inspired the cautious reopening of museums in Shanghai and Seoul, developments in Hong Kong point to the danger of returning to normalcy too quickly.

According to ArtNet News, Hong Kong has taken the decision to once again close its government-run museums (including the Hong Kong Museum of Art, City Gallery and Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre) after a spike in new coronavirus cases. The policy reversal comes after the gradual reopening of these cultural institutions and public gathering spaces earlier in March.

Despite its proximity to China, Hong Kong’s COVID-19 mitigation tactics have been incredibly effective in “flattening the curve” in case numbers. The decision to close its government-run museums towards the end of January was part of a wider policy of social distancing. Subsequently, Art Basel Hong Kong made the decision to cancel its 2020 edition in early February. But as life returned to normal and the situation seemed under control, Hong Kong saw its confirmed COVID-19 cases double from 157 to 317 between March 16 and March 23. Many of the new infections came from Hong Kong residents who returned from Europe. and North America.

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Hong Kong is not the only municipality to rethink the opening of its cultural institutions. Singapore is now reporting 558 cases, including 32 of yesterday’s 49 new cases reported by travellers. ArtNet News also notes that two of the city-state’s museums (including the ArtScience Museum) temporarily closed after employees tested positive, providing another interesting data point for institutions keen to reopen as soon as possible.

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