(Image: Luis Quintero/Pexels)

When Prime Minister Scott Morrison finally announced a shut down of all non-essential services late Sunday night, following similar calls from NSW and Victoria, confusion still lingered over what would remain open. 

While bars, restaurants, and religious institutions shut down, hairdressers and beauty salons were deemed essential services, and allowed to continue trading. That decision seems in tension with measures designed to enforce social distancing — such services involve spending considerable time in close proximity to other people, with physical contact.

There seem to be a few reasons floating around as to why such services are still operating. 

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Sandy Chong, CEO of the Australian Hairdressing Council told Crikey the industry was likely exempt because, unlike at a pub or gym, owners could better control the spread of people and maintain social distancing.

“My understanding is when the government made the decision to close down particular businesses, it was because they are areas where they cannot control crowds and groups of people,” Chong said.

“A hairdressing salon has appointments and we can control how many people come in.”

However, Chong said there were mixed views in the industry about whether the decision to keep salons open was the right one.

“Not all of us can comply with 1.5 metre distance rules … There are some businesses that are taking their obligations seriously and some that are not.”

But others are less clear as to why these services are exempt. Speaking to news.com.au, the Hair and Beauty Industry Association’s Mark Rippon said he wasn’t sure why salons were able to stay open.

Meanwhile, according to the Daily Telegraph, the decision was based on experiences during the 1990 recession, when people still wanted to look and feel good in spite of economic hardship.

When Crikey asked the Health Department about the classification of hair and beauty as essential services, we were initially referred to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. Industry then referred Crikey back to a transcript of Morrison’s press conference on Sunday night.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health later told Crikey that states and territories were responsible for determining what is an essential business and may be exempt from current restrictions.

The government’s decision might also be based on similar calls made overseas. In the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson also deemed such services to be essential and allowed to remain open. But the decision garnered fierce criticism, including from Tory MP David Morris, who owns six hair salons.

That inconsistency also didn’t last long. This morning, Johnson made the decision to put the country into almost complete lockdown. 

Chong, meanwhile, believes it won’t be long before we move into the next stage of the lockdown, and hairdressers too will have to close their doors.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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