LONDON (Reuters) - Five thousand years of art and design history will be joined by some more modern items when London's Victoria and Albert (V&A) museum reopens on Thursday - hand sanitiser dispensers and protective screens.
Mask-wearing visitors will be allowed to tour exhibits on two of the museum's floors, strolling through 250 years of European Renaissance art, a dazzling Islamic Middle East gallery, and five centuries of fashion from around the world.
Tickets are free but visitors will be allowed in on a booking-only basis after months of coronavirus-enforced closure, marking another step in Britain's tentative economic and cultural reopening.
"We want people to enjoy themselves again after all these months of looking at screens - to go and see an artefact for yourself, to stand in front of an object, that's what's so important," said museum director Tristram Hunt.
"The V&A has been closed for 138 days, the longest period of closure in its history."
The 160-year-old museum, named after Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, has been modified to meet the demands of social distancing regulations designed to prevent the spread of a COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 46,000 people in Britain alone.
Hand sanitiser dispensers have been dotted around the sprawling, mosaic-floored building. The gift shop and cafe have been equipped with protective screens.
Further sections of the V&A's seven miles of galleries will reopen in phases later in the month.
"What we've all discovered is that it's relatively easy to close, but it's a lot more difficult to reopen," Hunt said.
"We've got the pubs open, we've got the football playing, that's great. But museums, galleries, schools, places where people can nurture their souls is really important."
(Reporting by Hanna Rantala; Writing by William James; Editing by Janet Lawrence)