SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - May 27, 2020 - 12:00am

Women are learning to cut the hair of males in the family. Some guys have learned to use the electric razor-hair clipper for giving themselves a close crop.

So many other guys, however, are letting their hair and even beards grow – perhaps the better to remember this pandemic. Their gray hair is now overwhelming the parts dyed a darker color.

As for the women, we can afford to let our hair grow long. I’m curious to find out how much will be added to the length of my hair until a vaccine or cure is found for COVID-19 and we can afford to do away at least with physical distancing (wearing masks, I think, is here to stay, especially for travel).

I’ve been trimming my own nails during the quarantine. One valuable discovery: there’s no thickening of cuticles even without the regular full manicure-pedicure. Since I don’t use nail polish, I’m not really missing anything, except the occasional foot spa.

There are men and women, however, who need someone else to tackle ingrown toenails. I know someone who risked arrest for quarantine violations and went to a barber for a trim and a pedicure, because his ingrown toenails were making it painful for him to walk. He brought disposable gloves and a mask for the barber to wear, and made sure the mani-pedi equipment and the barber’s chair were cleaned with ethyl alcohol.

Other people are undoubtedly doing the same. I’m seeing an increasing number of barbershops and beauty salons, their entrances ajar to let in regular patrons, but ready to shut down quickly if there’s an approaching police or barangay patrol. In some areas, the barbershops are openly operating so close to police posts that I suspect their clients are the cops themselves.

Those who badly miss a professional hairdresser and the works for mani-pedi (complete with artistic nail polish) will be happy to know that the government is seriously considering allowing the reopening of salons and barbershops.

*      *      *

Over the weekend I watched employees at a spacious salon demonstrate to a government team led by Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez and COVID task force chief implementer Carlito Galvez how it can be done:

Physical distancing of course will be enforced, for both clients and employees. Each chair will be cleaned with alcohol before use by every customer, who will be made to wear a disposable plastic sheet (which looks like a repurposed garbage bag, but it will do).

The workers will wear gloves, masks and protective clothing. All equipment will be disinfected with alcohol or in a UV sterilizer box. Some customers might want to bring their own equipment, especially nippers, nail files and razors. This was done several years ago, during another virus scare.

At the end of the demonstration, Lopez appeared satisfied. This week his office, in consultation with the Department of Health, is submitting guidelines for the reopening of salons and barbershops to the Inter-Agency Task Force on the pandemic.

As for facials and massages, we may have to obtain DIY kits and gadgets. I don’t think there will be much enthusiasm for these services until a cure or vaccine is found – which at best is still a few months away.

*      *      *

Massage and facials are just two livelihood activities that will remain in limbo even when quarantine measures are eased next week especially in Metro Manila, Laguna and Cebu City – the three areas still under modified enhanced community quarantine. Some folks who badly need a Botox retouch can probably get home service, but the establishments offering such cosmetic enhancement treatments may see weaker demand due to coronavirus phobia.

All sectors are presenting physical distancing innovations so they can reopen ASAP for business. But there are sectors that continue to face bleak prospects.

These include travel and tourism plus the downstream enterprises, many of them micro, such as the makers of souvenir items and local delicacies.

Some entrepreneurs have been quick to adopt. Outside The STAR building, the stalls selling used sewing machines and household appliances have switched to bicycles. And business is booming, with traffic even building up on the street yesterday due to a throng of buyers arriving in private cars.

The stalls have also put out used washer-dryers – indicating that people who used to go regularly to public self-service coin laundry outlets are now opting to invest in their own machines for household use.

*      *      *

Both the national and local governments are eager to restart businesses. Funding for the social amelioration program is running out, and people must be allowed to be financially independent (and pay taxes).

Tricycle operators and drivers have eagerly returned to the streets in the areas that have allowed this. Even with fares doubled or tripled to make up for the physical distancing restriction, commuters are generally glad to have this basic means of mass transport back.

In addition to allowing livelihood activities to resume, measures are being considered to assist businesses.

Yesterday I received a statement from the Israel Ministry of Tourism. Its vibrant capital Tel Aviv is allowing the reopening of restaurants, bars and cafés – but I doubt if the circumstances outlined will allow physical distancing if we did the same in our country.

What might be possible in the Philippines are the incentives given by Tel Aviv to businesses.

These include a three-month exemption from the municipal tax, exemption from property tax after a two-month suspension at the start of the pandemic, and advance payment to suppliers of the Tel Aviv local government – a hefty 500 million in Israeli new shekels (nearly P7.2 billion).

Foregone revenues will be considerable, but the pandemic calls for creative compromises. The principal goal is to save livelihoods.

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