Thousands of Hong Kong beauty industry workers vented their frustrations in an online protest on Thursday, railing against extended business closures amid the city’s fourth wave of coronavirus infections and demanding the government allow operators to reopen so they can earn a living.
Over 3,400 people joined the live-streamed protest, with social media users accusing the government of being unsympathetic to their plight and offering insufficient financial support for the beleaguered industry, which was forced to shut down for 114 days last year and will remain closed until later this month at the earliest.
They also demanded a dialogue with the government, which the Chief Secretary’s Office said on Wednesday would be arranged via videoconferencing.
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Commenting online, the beauticians on Thursday demanded the government let them get back to work, with some saying they were struggling to make ends meet as expenses and debt piled up.
Beauty businesses were most recently ordered to suspend operations from December 10, with the policy extended to at least January 20 as the government tried to curtail the city’s fourth wave of infections.
Industry leaders, meanwhile, have said around 56,000 workers in the beauty sector were in dire straits as they were not able to work at all.
In a symbolic act of defiance against the extended closures, dozens of beauty salon owners opened their businesses on Thursday – with staff dressed in full hazmat suits – to show that the industry had adopted all necessary hygiene measures and was ready to start serving customers again. However, the outlets did not serve customers to avoid violating social-distancing rules.
Federation of Beauty Industry chairman Nelson Yip Sai-hung, who led the online protest, said he hoped to start a dialogue with the government and persuade officials to allow salons to reopen.
“We want officials to realise that thousands of people have lost their incomes, and that thousands of families are also in dire need right now,” Yip said.
“A lot of beauticians are single parents; how are they supposed to provide for their children if you ban them from going to work?”
Yip also pointed out that salons had stepped up their hygiene measures with temperature checks, health declaration forms and single-use protective gear for workers.
Since clients have to book their beauty treatments in advance and workers only served one person at a time, Yip said he was confident that the industry could conduct contact tracing more closely.
Ming Wong Ching-ming, managing director of Unique Beauty, was among those who opened her salon on Thursday in hopes the government would understand the industry’s disappointment over the latest rules.
“We opened today and asked our staff to come to the office,” said Wong, “Not to serve any clients, but to show that we’re fed up with the restrictions. They keep punishing us to close down even if there haven’t been any cases linked to the industry recently.”
Wong said the industry was desperate to reopen before the Lunar New Year break in mid-February to at least bring in some revenue to keep their businesses and staff afloat.
Alan Ngan, whose company supplies beauty products and equipment to 2,000 outlets in the city, said his business had been paralysed because of the salon closures.
“When salons have to close, I can’t sell any products. Everything has stopped, our orders, our clients, our revenue,” he said.
“I have three kids to feed, one just started university, another one is in secondary school and the youngest is still in primary school,” Ngan said, choking back tears. “We don’t want to sit around for subsidies. We just want to get back to work.”
Beauty parlours were entitled to a one-off allowance of between HK$30,000 (US$3,869) and HK$100,000 each under the latest HK$6.4 billion coronavirus relief package announced last month, but the industry has said the amount was not enough to cover wages and rent for the prolonged closures they have experienced.
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