Hair-raising decision

Sarawak does not have to follow the federal government’s decision 100 per cent. The opening of barber shops has been the talk of the town now, which personally I think should not be allowed to open for the time being.

– DATUK ABDUL KARIM RAHMAN HAMZAH, YOUTH AND SPORTS MINISTER

I have been tearing my hair out since last Friday following the government’s decision to allow barber shops and hair salons to operate during the extended MCO (movement control order) period.

We’ll never know what got into our friends in Putrajaya or what they were thinking of when they made the announcement.

After all the trouble we went through, and after all the efforts that we have taken since March 18, are we going to let them go to waste?

I guess it’s okay for certain businesses to open like social health services, including registered traditional medicine centres; hardware shops; appliance and electronic shops; optical shops; laundries (though not self-service ones), and automotive and aerospace industries where the social distancing rule can be strictly adhered to.

But barber shops? I just can’t figure out how the one-metre gap can be applied between barber and customer. Or perhaps our Putrajaya friends have something up their sleeves that they have not told us about?

Maybe in the not too distant future robotic barbers or hairdressers will do the job. Hopefully I am still around then to feel the “robotic touch”.

Many of my hairstylist friends are not amused by the government’s decision.

One of them, Su Zen, initially thought her hubby was pulling a fast one on her when he broke the news to her.

“How to potong rambut when at the same time we’ve to maintain a safe distance of at least three feet or so from one another? Do they know what they are talking about?” she retorted when I asked if she would like to give her comment on WhatsApp. 

“Even if they decide to waive the social distance ruling, we are not going to risk our lives. Who knows, these customers may have the virus (Covid-19)!

“We can take precautionary steps such as checking the customer’s temperature or wearing protective equipment like the medical people … Nah, forget it. We’ll wait till after the MCO period,” said Su Zen.

I wanted to know her reaction about robotic hairdressers, so I asked: “Su Zen-ah, you think it would be good for your shop to hire robotic barbers-ah in future?”

Her reply was immediate: “You okay or not?”

I decided to leave at that; she was not amused by my question.

Both sepuluh-ringgit (ordinary) barbers and the high-end hairstylists do have one common argument which our policymakers fail to take into account which is, it is impossible for a barber to keep a one-metre gap from the customer.

Furthermore, it may not be advisable to resume business under the present situation when Covid-19 cases are still showing signs of increasing. 

As of 5pm yesterday, a total of 4,683 cases (4,530 the previous day) have been recorded nationwide with 153 new cases and 76 deaths. And in Sarawak, the virus claimed victim No. 14.

A haircut is not a quickie job; it takes anywhere between 15 minutes for a simple cut and 45-60 minutes for an elaborate one.

Mimi, our neighbourhood hairstylist, who has been operating for nearly a quarter of a century is willing to sit out until after April 28.

Most of them, who are members of the local hair salon association, are not complaining.

“What’s the use if we contract the disease from our customers. All the money is not going to save us.” She definitely has a point. Hopefully, her colleagues see it that way too.

Although clients are required to have their temperature and hygiene checked, Mimi is still worried that the virus could spread as some coronavirus carriers do not show any symptoms.

I agree with our Minister of Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah when she said “it’s not the time to loosen things up yet”.

“Haircut can be done at home, or it can wait. And laundry tasks can be shared among family members,” she said.

You couldn’t have said it better, Datuk Seri.

Yes, the long hours put in by doctors, nurses and other medical personnel and the huge budget incurred by the government to mitigate the Covid-19 scourge will all go down the drain if businesses like hair salons and laundries are to operate now.

Even as I finish writing my column, my editorial colleagues alerted me to Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s clarification that the operation of barber shops and hair salons is confined only to green zone areas during the extended MCO period from April 15.

That doesn’t sound good enough.

Nevertheless, there is hope yet that the approval will be revoked when he said: “We were told by Miti (Ministry of International Trade and Industry) that whatever that had been announced did not mean it would automatically be implemented.”

Let’s pray the ministry has the good sense to make the right decision.

We have come this far, so let’s not do something foolish which we may not live to regret.