LONDON: London's Natural History Museum is dusting off the blue whale that soars above its central hall, its dinosaur skeletons and thousands of other exhibits in preparation for re-opening next month after COVID-19 forced its closure in March.
Museum Director Michael Dixon said staff had made the museum, which usually attracts about 5 million visitors a year, safe for the limited numbers it can accommodate with social distancing measures.
"We want to the museum to look at its fabulous best - this great cathedral to nature," he told Reuters.
"As you can see behind me, Hope the whale is getting her annual dusting, we have brought that forward this year, and she will look her magnificent best on the fifth of August when we re-open to the public."
The museum, which has been based in South Kensington since 1881, shut its doors on March 17, six days before British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a nationwide lockdown.
Dixon said the closure had hit the world-renowned research centre's finances, both through the loss of donations and the cancellation of events.
The museum would receive help from the government's 1.57 billion pound (US$2 billion) package for the cultural sector, he said, but it would not be commercially viable longer term unless visitor numbers could be increased above the 20per cent capacity social distancing allowed.
However, those who do have a ticket will not have to jostle with the usual crowds to see the most popular exhibits.
"When people visit the museum over the next few months they are going to get a fantastic VIP experience because they will be able to see things without so many people around them, and I think that will be a wonderful experience for many, many people," he said.
(US$1 = 0.7771 pounds)
(Writing by Paul Sandle; Editing by Marguerita Choy)