Airport tarmacs are melting, air conditioner sales are skyrocketing, and people have been advised not to travel unless necessary as the United Kingdom breaks its highest temperature ever recorded. The heatwave is testing England’s infrastructure and spurring unprecedented safety measures at some art institutions.
On Monday and Tuesday, the British Museum temporarily closed its upper galleries “to ensure the comfort and safety of staff and visitors,” it said in a statement. The museum also agreed to reduce its operating hours following pressure from their staff union, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) said Monday on Twitter.
Meanwhile, the Victoria & Albert Museum similarly shuttered its top-most floors but has remained open. The Tate is operating as normal, while the National Portrait Gallery is closed until 2023 for major renovations.
The British Museum and the V&A said they plan to return to normal operating hours Wednesday, but PCS is urging every U.K. museum to reconsider its plans.
The Museum Association, a U.K. nonprofit membership organization that advocates for equity in the museum workplace, reported that the union called on the British Museum to close for the remainder of the heatwave, citing the U.K.’s first-ever red warning for weather that could pose serious risks to even healthy individuals.
“PCS has raised ongoing concerns with the British Museum regarding poor indoor air quality. We recently wrote to the museum asking them to sign up to the Independent SAGE safety pledge, however they have refused,” a union spokesperson said in a statement.
They continued: “As a world famous major tourist attraction, more should be done to improve the visitor experience and staff safety. Our members receive complaints on a daily basis from visitors about the poor indoor air quality, humidity, heat and occupancy levels.”
A museum spokeswoman said in a statement that “the safety and security of staff, visitors, and the collection is the British Museum’s first priority.”
The historic heatwave in the United Kingdom is part of “exceptionally hot air” rising from the European continent, the Met Office said, while wildfires have raged in parts of Greece, Portugal, Spain, Croatia and France. Officials reported that more than one thousand people have had to evacuate their homes and the risk of drought throughout Europe is high.
A national emergency has been declared in England, which may see temperatures rise as high as 106 degrees Fahrenheit this week.