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As restrictions ease, zoos decide: to face mask or not to face mask?

It’s “freedom day” in the UK, and the onus is now on operators to decide which safety measures to put in place

Chessington World of Adventures masks COVID guidance zoos

By Sean Mannie, Marwell Wildlife

The UK government has finally made its announcement on Step 4 of the roadmap out of COVID measures. But what does this COVID guidance mean for English zoos and aquaria from 19 July, and for sites operating under the national devolved governments, who have their own timetables?

The Delta strain is still running rife. So the longed-for finality of an absolute end of restrictions just isn’t there. Instead, we all fall into a very uncertain middle ground.


The legal requirements that we have operated under up to now, whilst in many ways heavy-handed and poorly communicated, were at least relatively simple. They didn’t need too much interpretation from us as operators.

However, the onus has now shifted to individual venues to determine what measures each one keeps, adapts or loses and whether to make those measures advisory or mandatory.

COVID guidance for zoos allows flexible approach

In some ways, this is potentially helpful, given that every site is very different. So, the new guidance can be more readily adapted to the physical layout and context that best fits each business situation.

I have had a look at some of the initial reactions of colleagues. Some, especially with heavy indoor content, are retaining a requirement for face masks. Some are simply advising use in indoor situations. And others with less indoor content are losing them entirely. Similar variations are likely for social distancing and hand washing.

Pre-booking of tickets has been extremely popular with operators. Many sites, including my own, will want to continue this approach for as long as possible.

chester zoo conservation masterplan
Image courtesy of Chester Zoo

Flexibility can be great. The big downside is that flexibility also introduces inconsistency – with different venues applying very different rules and standards. This point is already being picked up by the media. This COVID guidance could make life ever more confusing for our zoo guests and potentially more difficult to manage for all of us.

The coming weeks over the vital peak summer period will show whether the myriad of different approaches becomes a significant issue. Or, whether our guests and visitors will adapt to the new order.

As ever, we will all have to prepare, watch, wait and be quick to react to a very fluid situation, just at the point where we had all hoped it was over once and for all.

Top image courtesy of Chessington World of Adventures

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Sean Mannie Marwell Zoo

Sean Mannie

Sean Mannie is Commercial Director at Marwell Wildlife, a large charity run zoo in Hampshire. He is also founding Chair of the BIAZA Commercial & Guest Services Working Group and Vice-Chair of BIAZA’s Mission Enabling Committee. He previously enjoyed careers in commercial business and in national museums, including the role of General Manager South for the Royal Armouries.

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