Official papers reveal hairdressers and beauty salons may have little impact on Covid transmission rates in Northern Ireland

Evidence from papers that helped shape Northern Ireland’s coronavirus regulations have revealed the Executive knew the closure of certain sections of industry, such as beauty salons, may have little impact on the transmission rates.

hief Scientific Adviser Professor Ian Young and Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride consider the latest evidence regularly to provide advice to the Executive to make decisions over further or fewer restrictions.

The papers suggested the closure of bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants may have a “moderate” impact, although there was higher confidence that restrictions on outdoor gatherings, including prohibiting large events, would likely only have a low impact on transmission.

The impact of the closure of close contact services such hairdressers and beauty salons on the R number — the rate of transmission — was estimated to be low at around 0.05, and is “likely to disproportionately affect poorest (and women) given employment in personal services with consequences for health inequalities”.

Since Friday hairdressers and beauticians have only been able to work if they are continuing essential health services. One hairdresser in Co Antrim said workers in the industry are “lambs to the slaughter”, forced to shut while other sectors remain open.

Matthew McIlveen, co-owner of The Glam Studio in Newtownabbey, said he has been able to trade for just 103 days after opening in February.

He said the four-week closure of salons by the Executive to contain the risk of transmission through close contact services would drive custom to unregulated workers.

In an open letter to MLAs, Mr McIlveen (30) wrote: “While we are acutely aware that grey hairs in times of crisis are a minimal sacrifice, we in fact feel like the sacrificial lambs to the slaughter.

“In the 240 days since our particular business began to trade, we have managed to have the doors open for just 103… this has driven trade in huge numbers to untaxed, unregulated workers, profiting off the misery your decisions have forced salons into.”

He said the lockdown was an unfairly blunt instrument. “The bluntness really comes from the fact that really big businesses like Tesco and Asda are allowed to continue to trade with very little measures in place compared to the salons like ours.”

Pubs and restaurants have been closed since last Friday as part of a four-week ‘circuit breaker’, while fast food and takeaways are able to remain operational subject to an 11pm curfew.

According to the evidence, the closure of bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants will only have a “moderate impact” on the R number, reducing it by between 0.1-0.2, but will have a “high direct impact” on people due to loss of income for hospitality employees.

It notes “multiple anecdotal reports of outbreaks linked to bars in the UK, Europe, US”.

Belfast Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton described the evidence as “absolutely shocking”. He tweeted: “This flimsy evidence poses massive questions for the NI Executive.

“Why did Ministers close hospitality and close contact retail when they knew it would have such a low impact on the R number, a high impact on incomes and a disproportionate effect on the poor and women?”

Prof Young said the papers “will help to inform public debate and discussion on Northern Ireland’s response to the pandemic”.

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