Spa industry calls on the government to urgently reopen saunas and steam rooms amid fears of permanent closure

Most of the beauty and wellness industry is now open, but a small fraction of the sector is still in lockdown

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While last weekend saw the reopening of remaining close contact beauty services in the UK, a fraction of the industry is still facing a significant risk of permanent closure due to ongoing lockdown restrictions.

Saunas and steam rooms, which can constitute up to 75 percent of total revenue for spas, have remained closed since lockdown began in late March. As essential as they are to the spa experience, the sector claims there is currently a lack of clear commitment from the government on a reopening date for these facilities. This means, while some spa spaces are now open and operating with limited services (such as pools, relaxation rooms and treatments), other wellness businesses remain closed as it is simply not commercially viable to reopen without resuming their sauna and steam room facilities.

With no date in sight, the UK Spa Association (UKSA) is now demanding the immediate reopening of saunas and steam rooms, having provided the government with suggested Covid safe operating procedures and substantial scientific evidence, which clearly demonstrate that these facilities can operate with a low risk of transmission even in shared spaces. 

General manager of the UKSA, Helena Grzesk, says: "Saunas and steam rooms are a very significant part of what we do. We've worked with industry trade associations and bodies for months, we've supported them, shared information, expertise and advice, and there have been many instances where I've asked them to counter evidence all the scientific material we have provided that clearly demonstrates that we can reopen these facilities in a Covid-secure way, but of course that [request] has not come to avail."

"I believe they do not have any scientific evidence to suggest these spaces are dangerous. It comes down to a lack of understanding in managing the diversity of what we do."

Evidence produced by the UKSA suggests that the potential risks regarding surface transmission and temperature are not a great cause for concern as there is little evidence of the virus being transmitted through surface contact and high temperatures are known to destroy it, combining the two is also a good risk mitigation.

Fears over viral load, ventilation and air changes in these facilities have also been well thought through. The UKSA note that according to Public Health England, 'a single air change is estimated to remove 63 percent of airborne contaminants, with five air changes reducing particles to less than one percent'. With this in mind, spas will ensure that air is changed at least five times to reduce contamination by greater than 99 percent. Additionally, as the air flow already far exceeds the parameters stated in the leisure guidance of 20 litres per second (double that of normal buildings), the risk of viral load in a sauna is minimal.

As well as these measures, the UKSA have assured that spas will undertake various other protocols to maintain safety. These will include; calculating capacity to ensure 2m social distancing can be maintained, putting up correct signage for capacity in each facility, marked areas for individuals, bookable time slots, operating at optimum temperature for 30 minutes before use and at the end of each day, and regular cleaning of steam rooms throughout the day. 

With thermal spaces still closed, the majority of spas now have up to 70 percent of their teams in consultation and these businesses, which underpin other leisure, hospitality, tourism, beauty and fitness businesses, are either being forced to operate at low occupancy or face closure and further redundancies.

Helena adds that the prolonged closure of these areas will undoubtedly lead to long-term damage. "I'm worried about how this is impacting the consumer view, because right now it looks as though we are one of the most dangerous places you visit, which is not the case. There's a handful of spaces still closed including nightclubs, strip clubs and large outdoor entertainment venues, in addition to saunas and steams rooms - and for me that is a damaging and devastating message."