Beauty industry 'decimated' by COVID-19 calls on province to let it reopen
'We have been neglected,' group representing beauty, personal care services says
Leanne Colley says she doesn't know how much longer her nail salon can remain afloat under the province's current lockdown restrictions.
Her business, Tips Nail Bar, which has two locations in Toronto, has been closed since November. Since the start of the pandemic, Colley says her salon has been open for a total of five months.
"Operating at 25 per cent capacity and still having to pay your overhead is really difficult," she told CBC Metro Morning's Ismaila Alfa on Thursday.
"We don't know what's going to happen. Everything is wait and see for us...That's very difficult."
Under the "grey-lockdown" zone of Ontario's colour-coded pandemic plan, personal care services are prohibited from opening and have been completely shuttered for the past four months.
The industry is asking the government to allow reopening as soon as this weekend.
"Beauty United Council of Ontario, a group representing approximately 10,000 beauty and personal care businesses, called on the provincial government to reopen the decimated beauty industry in an open letter to Premier Doug Ford," the group wrote in a statement on Thursday.
"There is no data to suggest that the beauty and personal care industry is putting the public at risk," Paola Girotti, spokesperson for Beauty United, wrote in the letter.
"We control capacity to ensure distancing and can fully cooperate in contact tracing through appointment booking and strict sign-ins. [We] already had infection protocol and control in place, long before the pandemic," she said.
Annette Palumbo, the executive director of Beauty United, says the Ford government has completely overlooked the beauty industry.
"We have been neglected, period," she said. "It seems that we've actually been pushed to the side, disregarded, disrespected. Our clients are suffering," Palumbo told CBC News.
More than 200,000 Ontarians are employed by the beauty and personal care industry in Ontario, the group says, adding that while more than 20 per cent of the industry has already shut down permanently, many more businesses won't survive the continued lockdown.
"Enough is enough. There is no reason why we can't be open," Palumbo said.
Tanya Hill, vice president of the Ontario Professional Hairstylist Association (OPHA), says the industry has continuously asked the government what it has to do in order to open, but says it's been "radio silence" on the province's end.
"We've been unheard and ignored, which is very disappointing," she said. Hill says the government's refusal to engage in conversation with the industry is forcing people to work illegally to survive.
"You're encouraging people to take an unsafe route as opposed to encouraging them to open and work under their restrictions, their guidelines, and their capacity restrictions," Hill said.
Province 'continues to balance' health, economy needs, ministry says
"The government recognizes the impact that public health and workplace safety measures, including business closures have, and continues to balance the need to take action to prevent COVID-19 transmission while maintaining access to settings and services that are important for Ontarians," the Ontario Health Ministry said in a statement to CBC News.
The ministry says it will continue to assess the data and readjust restrictions.
Meanwhile, at a news conference on Thursday, Ontario's Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said "there's been a lot of concern expressed regarding hair salons, barbershops, and it is under active consideration."
On Wednesday, in its 2021 budget, the Ford government announced more relief for eligible small businesses to help with the ongoing costs of the pandemic. This will be equal to the amount of their first payment from the Ontario Small Business Support Grant, ranging from $10,000 to $20,000.
"I think that it is a nice surprise," said Colley, "but I also think that depending on how much longer we're closed, $20,000 isn't a lot of money for a small business to keep their business running."
It's about lowering risk, not eliminating it, expert says
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a member of Ontario's COVID-19 task force, says when it comes to the beauty industry, it's about limiting and lowering risk, not eliminating risk.
He says while personal care services like hair and nail salons can't physically distance, data published in a prominent medical journal earlier in the pandemic showed that mask-wearing in a hair salon with COVID-19 present "really, really" reduced the risk.
He says this was before the era of variants of concern, so that might change the outcome somewhat.
"I think that, quite frankly, if people are masked, if there's very, very few people in an indoor setting, if you improve the ventilation well ... you still can create a safer work environment. But of course, it's not risk free," he said.
Industry 'essential to well-being,' group says
From debilitating acne, to scalp issues, to therapeutic purposes, Palumbo says the reasons for reopening the industry are multi-faceted and are about much more than beauty services.
"We consider ourselves not only essential, but so essential to well-being," she said.
She also makes the case for workers, the majority of whom are women, who are out of jobs and are struggling to survive.
"We're 81 per cent women. We have women working as single mothers, mothers from marginalized communities, we have all kinds of gender members," Palumbo said.
"We're trying to provide for our families and our livelihoods; they're forcing our backs up against the wall."
Hill noted that even in zones across the province where these services are allowed, upper lip and chin waxing, facials and more are still prohibited because masks still need to be worn.
"It's going to be tough for our trade and our beauty industry to recover," she said.
With files from Metro Morning, Camille Feireisen, Laura McQuillan, Kirthana Sasitharan