Bathhouses in Hong Kong have ramped up hygiene measures ahead of reopening this week, after being forced to close for about four months by the coronavirus and losing millions of dollars as a result.
Chow Chun-yu, president of the Hong Kong Licensed Massage Association, said the industry had breathed a sigh of relief on learning they could reopen on Friday with limited services, and emphasised that operators were making hygiene their top priority.
“Bathhouses were asked to close for a total of 127 days because of the coronavirus, that’s roughly four months, and it has severely hit our businesses,” he said.
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About 50 commercial bathhouses with facilities such as jacuzzis and pools can reopen amid the government’s easing of social-distancing measures, but saunas and steam rooms must remain closed.
With the number of Covid-19 cases dropping in recent weeks, the government has been gradually relaxing the rules, which had included shutting a wide range of businesses. Beauty salons were allowed to reopen three weeks ago, followed by massage parlours a week later.
Despite welcoming the return of customers, Chow said the reduction in the amount of money businesses in his industry would receive from the government meant “the subsidy is meaningless”.
The latest round of support for bathhouses has been halved to HK$50,000 (US$6,450) for eligible establishments.
Chow said the aid was barely enough to cover basic costs, such as maintenance fees and added sanitation expenses.
“It’s like saving a burning car with just a cup of water,” he said.
Wendy Wong Hung-ying, who runs the Fortress Hill branch of Windsor Spa, said the location had suffered “several million dollars in losses”, and expected business would only resume at about 20 to 30 per cent of normal volume.
“The impact on our business has been significant since January when fears of the coronavirus first started,” Wong said. “Our revenue already fell by 80 per cent back then.”
She said about 40 customers had booked treatments for Friday, and estimated each would spend between HK$400 and HK$1,000 during their visit.
She said pool water would be changed three times a day and purification tablets would be used, while the pool would also be scrubbed down with bleach at the end of the day.
Going two months without any business at all has been incredibly tough for the industry, especially for local bars [far from the city centre]
Cat Hou, chairwoman of the Bartenders and Mixologists Union of Hong Kong
The added costs will see the spa spend HK$12,000 each time they deep clean the facilities using UV disinfectants.
Only half of the shower stalls will be in use and about five to six people will be allowed to use the pool at a time. Masseuses will also wear masks, gloves, face shields, hairnets and protective gowns for massage treatments, and change their gear after servicing each customer.
Guests will also have their temperatures taken, and be required to sign a health declaration form at reception.
Bars and pubs are also set to reopen on Friday after being closed since July 15, but are only allowed to serve two people per table and must shut by midnight.
Cat Hou Chui-shan, chairwoman of the Bartenders and Mixologists Union of Hong Kong, said bars in popular areas such as Lan Kwai Fong in Central and Knutsford Terrace in Tsim Sha Tsui would see more customers, as they could attract happy hour crowds from nearby commercial centres.
“Going two months without any business at all has been incredibly tough for the industry, especially for local bars [far from the city centre],” Hou said, expressing concern that smaller bars might not survive financially.
Nightclubs, bars and pubs are eligible for a one-off subsidy of HK$25,000 under the latest coronavirus relief package, but that amount would not even cover the salaries of two bartenders, according to Max Traverse, managing director of Honi Honi Tiki Cocktail Lounge in Central.
“It’s really really bad,” he said, “I can only do about 20 per cent of my normal business if I can only have two people per table.”
He also said the reopening was costly, as bars had to bear the expenses of setting up dividers and providing hand sanitisers.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Coronavirus: Hong Kong bars expect to reopen on Friday after two-month ban imposed under social-distancing rules
- Coronavirus: Hong Kong’s embattled businesses frustrated as subsidies in third round of relief fail to meet expectations
- Drop in Covid-19 cases not an excuse to do what you want, infectious disease expert tells Hongkongers, as city records nine new coronavirus infections
- Hong Kong businesses complain government approach to relaxing social-distancing rules too cautious, inconsistent