On Monday night, newly released Sage papers revealed that the Government's scientific advisers had called for widespread national measures for the ‘second wave’, including the closure of ‘personal care’, the category which hairdressers and beauty salons fall within. However Boris Johnson overruled the Government scientists, instead opting for a three-tier system of lockdown with areas in England being deemed either medium risk, high risk or very high risk.
In the documents, dated September 20 and 21, the scientists from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) called for the immediate consideration of five national measures - including a circuit-break lockdown, banning all contact within the home of other households and the closure of all bars, restaurants, gyms and personal services.
Hair and beauty industry groups have hit back at Sage, calling their advice to close such services as ‘astounding’ - especially without any proof of the contamination risk in a hair or beauty setting. “There was always a question mark about the information that was being shared with us from a scientific standpoint,” says Millie Kendall, chief executive of the British Beauty Council, who had repeatedly asked Sage and government for the scientific evidence for the prolonged closure of beauty services over the summer months.
“One of the biggest concerns from our industry has been the lack of visibility of the science. We were repeatedly prevented from trading when other industries were allowed to open. We are one of the most Covid-secure businesses on the high street, and one that is used to wearing copious amounts of PPE even pre-Covid. We repeatedly asked for proof or solid reasoning as to why our services were delayed in opening and requested to see the science behind the decision. The standard answer is ‘it’s being held up by the scientists’. Nothing more than that.”
Kendall isn’t surprised by Sage’s requests to close the beauty sector again. “To think that yet again we could be prevented from working without being given the right to see the scientific back up we have repeatedly asked for is astounding. From our perspective, it all feels very cloak and dagger and there has been a considerable lack of transparency about the science.”
Saunas and steam rooms have just been reopened in England as of this month, and to close them again would mean many businesses going bust, says Helena Grzesk, General Manager of the UK Spa Association. “Facing one of the longest closure periods of over 6 months, the prolonged restriction on saunas and steam rooms forced the UK spa industry to lose £74 million revenue each month causing extensive job losses and many more spas facing closure,” says Grzesk.
“It was highly illogical that all other parts of the sector had resumed full operation from August 15th under the guidance, yet we were held back again facing further prolonged and unnecessary closure.” The UK Spa Association provided the government with substantiated research and evidence that saunas and steam rooms could open in a Covid-secure safe way yet were ignored on many occasions following requests for counter evidence.
Hairdressers and beauty salons in Liverpool are relieved at the government’s decision to keep their services open for the time being. “Our salon has never been cleaner, and since reopening on July 4th, we’ve not had any cases of Covid traced back to our salon,” says Andrea Daley from the Barbara Daley hairdressers in Liverpool. “We operate with one-on-one appointments, and we follow guidelines to the word.”
A recent survey by L’Oreal found that 95 percent of clients found their post-lockdown visit to the hairdressers to be clean and hygienic, with a 94 percent feeling that the Covid-secure measures put in place made them feel safe and that the salons were adequately mitigating the risks of Covid. “Liverpool is like its own mini-country in the UK and Liverpudlians love to look good,” adds Daley. “If we had been closed, it would have a detrimental effect to the mental health of so many.”
Nic Byrne, the managing director of two Liverpool-based beauty salons, Urban Calm, agrees. “We’ve seen thousands of clients in the past eight weeks and we’ve not had a single incident of Covid in our salon. We’re working in close contact, but what the scientists don’t understand is that we know how to mitigate the risks and work safely for our staff and also our clients.”
Byrne’s business is down 40 percent compared to last year, and feels that if beauty salons and hairdressers were to close again, many businesses wouldn’t survive. “I'm so pleased we're open for now, but if we were forced to close again we would need to see the proof as to why - especially as beauty services have little to no risk of transmission."