Spas are open: these are the coronavirus rules

Two people at a spa
The day has finally arrived Credit: Copyright Maskot Bildbyrå/Maskot

Spas in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are now open. And with the government's latest easing of lockdown on August 15, close contact services such as facials, eyebrow threading and lip waxing are now allowed to resume in England. Although the experience "as we know it" has taken on a new look, with groups capped at six, bookable time slots, mandatory face masks for therapists, and some facilities like steam rooms and saunas still off-limits, it's good news for the beauty, wellness and hotel sectors. Here's what to expect in spas across England and what the new rules allow.

What measures can I expect?

Hotels are using hospital-grade disinfectant, practising strict and regular cleaning regimes and monitoring daily hygiene procedures among staff. Expect more hand-washing and sanitising stations throughout spa and wellness areas, pre-entry questionnaires and temperature checks, staggered opening and treatment times, plus social distancing measures in shared spaces and swimming pools (one metre plus). Visitors may be asked to wear masks, visors or gloves in places where other guests are not as easily avoided, such as treatment rooms and changing rooms, while therapists are now required to wear a mask and a clear visor when performing close contact services. Some changing rooms have been closed for the foreseeable; many hotels are asking guests to change in their bedrooms beforehand. 

Where possible, hotels will employ circuits of exclusive-use areas to help with social distancing. Gilpin Hotel & Lake House has a new Spa Lodge, one of five set to open this year. The private lodge features an open-plan lounge, large circular bath, walled garden with hot tub, steam room, sauna and treatment room equipped with infrared lounge beds, for the ultimate socially distanced spa trail experience. At the Lake House, which sleeps 12, the team won’t be performing hands-on treatments just yet. Instead they will be coordinating the trails – which now include state-of-the-art automated massage chairs – and delivering champagne and cream tea.

The spa at Cliveden includes an indoor pool and hot tub, an orangerie-style room for relaxing, and treatments Credit: Lynk Photography/Adam Lynk

What treatments can I book?

Treatments that involve the front of the face (the high-risk zone) such as eyebrow waxing, eyelash tinting and facials, were permitted to resume from August 15. Other services – such as body massages, manicures, pedicures, leg or bikini waxing – have been on the menu for a while even if the hotel’s spa isn’t fully open. Treatments may also decrease in length – government guidelines advise keeping appointments short in order to minimise contact. While some spas have temporarily eliminated treatment menus altogether, others have found ways to continue their services, or reduced their offerings. The spa at Cliveden, for instance, isn’t fully opening for day guests until September but treatments can be booked by residents and members. Pennyhill is offering Rasul mud treatments (a self-applied mud experience in a private steam chamber).

The Coach House Spa at Beaverbrook has curated a series of new Wild Wellness experiences ahead of the spa's reopening, combining gentle movement, breathing and meditation. Immunity-nutrition workshops are offered to improve eating habits, which can be combined with treatments at The Coach House Spa – and guests will be able to book the thermal suites exclusively before and after. Rockcliffe Hall near Darlington has created 'Spa in a Box’ skincare kits. Guests can perform a prescriptive facial or treatment from the comfort of their room, with all the products they need, through guided videos by the beauty experts.

The pool at Chewton Glen has an air of exclusivity about it

Will I be able to use the facilities?

Outdoor swimming pools in England were allowed to reopen from July 11, and indoor swimming pools from July 25. Many like Calcot & Spa are limiting numbers in the pool on a "first come first serve basis" or operating pre-bookable slots. Government guidance states that "saunas and steam rooms should stay out of use for the time being as the risk of transmission is unclear" – so it’s likely that thermal suites and areas will remain shut, though it's not illegal if they don't. Spas also have the green light to operate gyms, Jacuzzis, whirlpools, and hydrotherapy pools with social distancing in place. See our round up of Britain's best hotels with swimming pools here.

Is it safe to use the pools?

There is little evidence to suggest that coronavirus can be passed through water, and according to the World Health Organisation chlorine kills it. It is also thought that thalassotherapy pools with a high concentration of magnesium chloride do not allow the virus to survive, as claimed by Forte Village in Sardinia (reopened in June). The areas surrounding the pools and wet areas, however, present more of a challenge, especially if facilities are indoors. Read more about what you can and can't do in swimming pools here.

And the other people?

There is nothing more infuriating than someone invading your personal space when you're trying to relax, but with many hotels reducing occupancy, capping spa guest numbers and requesting bookable slots, this is good news for those that relish a quiet break. Bear in mind though, that while this means smaller queues and fewer groups (with the government's 'rule of six' now limiting these to six people in any case), it could also mean longer waiting lists.  Those that do make it in can expect socially distanced seating, smaller fitness classes (some hotels will require you to bring your own mat or buy one) and outdoor wellness activities where possible.

What about the gym?

Both indoor and outdoor gyms are open. Calcot & Spa has an outdoor gym for guests' use while a brand-new yoga studio provides space for socially distanced classes and countryside views. At Pennyhill Park, guests are able to book the tennis court and they’re providing every room with a new Exclusive Collection exercise mat along with some recommended Pilates and Yoga apps for guests to use in their rooms or on the grounds. Gleneagles haven’t opened their gym yet (due to reopen after September 14), but are offering outdoor fitness activities, bike hire and a small selection of water sports at their Laich Loch.

Rockcliffe Hall has a separate 'spa garden' which guests can book exclusively for a group

What are spas overseas doing?

Therapists at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz work with masks when giving massages and use additional face shields when doing facials, as will Longevity in the Algarve. At Pine Cliffs Resort, also in the Algarve, they're placing 18 acrylic screens between guests and staff. 

COMO Hotels and Resorts, whose flagship property is COMO Shambhala in Bali's Ubud, will operate staggered treatment times and reduced numbers in fitness classes, gyms and pools (reopens September). These measures are already in place at COMO Uma Canggu (also in Bali) and COMO The Treasury in Perth. Similarly Ikos Olivia in Halkidiki, Greece are allocating 30-minute gaps between treatments to allow for extensive sanitation as part of its Infinite Care Protocol.

We will also see a rise in immune-boosting therapies, as people look to their general wellbeing more than ever before. In more than 40 different spas in 20 locations Anantara has introduced a signature massage oil using clove oil, citrus aurantium peel extract, eucalyptus oil and rosemary, which are said to help boost the immune system and behold antibacterial qualities.

Maldives hotel Anantara Kihavah, in particular, which operates Cocoon Medi-spa and plans to reopen around the end of summer, is looking into extending its existing range of IV vitamin infusions. SHA Wellness Clinic is also offering an immunology booster, while Longevity is implementing new holistic practices within its wellness programmes.