Grooming services overwhelmed, gyms grapple with distancing measures ahead of Phase 2 re-opening

Grooming services overwhelmed, gyms grapple with distancing measures ahead of Phase 2 re-opening

Self-disinfecting coating SAFRA EnergyOne gyms
Self-disinfecting coating being applied to equipment at EnergyOne gyms. (Photo: SAFRA)

SINGAPORE: News of Singapore’s Phase 2 re-opening from Friday (Jun 19) was a shot in the arm for many fitness and wellness services, but some were caught off-guard by safe distancing measures they are required to implement.

Coupled with pent-up demand from a hiatus of more than two months, some businesses have had to make adjustments to the way they usually operate. 

Spa Esprit beauty division marketing director Samantha Ong said the company's Strip, Browhaus and Spa Esprit outlets have been swamped by requests from customers seeking treatments and grooming services.

“The moment the news was released, our social media and phone lines went crazy,” she said. “We had over 1,000 messages a day, my call centre had over 10,000 callbacks to do.”

If you are planning to have your eyebrows plucked on Friday, get on the phone soon. As with many other places, Spa Esprit outlets will only take appointments, not walk-ins. Customers will also have to wear masks unless they are receiving treatments to their face.

READ: COVID-19: Phase 2 of reopening to start from Jun 19, social gatherings of up to five people allowed

READ: 257 new COVID-19 cases in Singapore, including 4 in the community

In guidelines issued by authorities on Jun 16, therapists will have to sanitise their hands and disinfect tools between customers, while shared items, from beauty products to magazines, are prohibited.

Precautions to curb the spread of COVID-19 are required for all shops and lifestyle services as many lift the shutters for the first time since Apr 7. With the exception of venues and entertainment outlets where large crowds are likely to congregate, most activities and businesses can resume from Friday. 

Many of the required hygiene practices are not new, said Spa Esprit's Ms Ong, with most of them already in place before the pandemic started. On top of existing measures, staff will now wear face shields as well as masks. 

At Natureland spas, disinfection and preparations for safe distancing are ongoing ahead of its re-opening on Saturday, said Ms Karen Shum, manager of the Siglap branch.

Spa equipment will be disinfected while bed sheets and towels will be changed after every guest. Customers will also be encouraged to use cashless payment methods. 

The demand for appointments has been “overwhelming”, said Ms Shum. But with capacity at all seven outlets halved to meet new safety standards, getting that massage appointment could take a while for some.

SMALLER CLASSES FOR GYMS

Fitness studios which have smaller class sizes seemed better able to adapt to the "new normal" compared to large gyms and sports venues, which will have fewer patrons under guidelines issued by Sport Singapore on Wednesday night.

READ: Sports and physical activities in Phase 2: What you need to know

The Yoga Shala’s Daisy Chia was considering closing one of her two yoga studios as the “circuit breaker” had hit business hard, but she is now preparing to resume classes at both locations from next Monday.

Ms Chia said that her studios will be limiting classes to 10 students a session so that they can stay at least 2m apart. Their regulars are eager to be back, and classes are fully booked next week, she said.

Yoga Shala
A yoga class at The Yoga Shala before the "circuit breaker" period. Students will now have to be spaced at least 2m apart. (Photo: The Yoga Shala)

When they come, they will have to bring their own yoga mats. Masks can be removed during practice but will have to be worn once the students are done.

“We don’t use communal mats anymore,” she said. “Our common area for students to clean up, at any point in time, only one person is allowed there.”

For Ming Lim of FlyWith Fitness, classes will be smaller and this means prices will have to be raised to make sure the business can cover rent and instructor fees.

READ: ‘A great relief’: F&B and retail businesses welcome Phase 2 but say it will take some time to recover 

"Our studios are pretty small, for both locations ... so with the new measures, we can only fit at least half of our normal capacity, especially for our aerial yoga classes," said Mr Lim.

Like other gyms and studios, the gym will have to implement safety measures like temperature taking, frequent disinfecting of equipment, and SafeEntry check-ins and check-outs.

In addition, FlyWith Fitness is also encouraging members to bring their own aerial hammocks or to rent them to avoid sharing equipment.

"So far, member sentiment has been encouraging, but we wouldn't know till we fully implement these new measures as well as our new pricing," he said.

KEEP 3M APART FOR INTENSE EXERCISE INDOORS:  SPORT SG

Under the new guidelines, sport and recreational facilities need to ensure that each person has at least 10 sq m of space, capped at a limit of 50 people, said SportSG.

While exercising, people will need to stay at least 2m from each other, but for indoor classes of high intensity, that distance goes up to 3m. Each group of five people should also be spaced 3m apart.

A number of gyms which have group exercise classes told CNA that they were still working out their plans after receiving SportSG's guidelines on Wednesday night, two days after the Phase 2 re-opening was announced.

At least one major fitness chain has told its members they will have to wait a little longer. Fitness First, one of Singapore's largest gym operators with 19 outlets, told members in an SMS that their clubs will not resume operations on Friday as it is still working on the implementation of safety measures.

READ: Phase 2: Expert tips on how to stay safe in the gym, yoga studio and swimming pool

Infectious diseases expert Hsu Li Yang from the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health agreed that intense fitness classes in a confined space pose a higher risk.

A study conducted in South Korea found that more than 100 people were infected with COVID-19 after fitness dance classes at 12 sports facilities. The study authors said: “The moist, warm atmosphere in a sports facility coupled with turbulent air flow generated by intense physical exercise can cause more dense transmission of isolated droplets.”

Professor Hsu added that it is hard to remove the risk of COVID-19 transmission, but there are ways to minimise those risks while exercising. These include reducing the number of people in the gym at any one time, improving air circulation and upping the frequency of cleaning equipment.

At SAFRA's EnergyOne gyms, a self-disinfecting coating will be applied to all gym equipment and commonly touched surfaces. Sanitising mats will also be placed at all gym entrances to disinfect visitors' shoe soles.

EnergyOne will also be trialling the installation of shields between cardio machines such as treadmills, stationary bikes and steppers at the SAFRA Punggol gym.

SAFRA EnergyOne gyms shield
Shields will be trialled for cardio equipment at the EnergyOne gym at SAFRA Punggol. (Photo: SAFRA)

Most Sport Singapore facilities, such as ActiveSG stadiums, gyms and indoor sports halls will open on Friday, albeit with their capacities reduced. At swimming pools and ActiveSG gyms, bookings will be required via the ActiveSG app; while at stadiums, if there are more than 50 people inside, users will be asked to return at non-peak times.

SportSG has said that there should only be up to five athletes per lane for lane swimming, and groups should be limited to five people, with the groups spaced 3m apart.

Hougang Swimming Complex 1
Hougang Swimming Complex. (Photo: ActiveSG website)

Prof Hsu confirmed that swimming was safe, but said that members of the public should take the usual precautions.

“Chlorinated water will inactivate SARS-CoV-2. Otherwise, potential risks of going to a public pool are generally the same: Possibility of transmission comes from being in close contact with others in or out of the pool.” 

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Source: CNA/hm(ac)

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