Bengaluru, May 21 (IANS) Hundreds of people are flocking to the nearest barber shop in their neighbourhood for a quick hair cut or a shave after waiting 57 days when an extended lockdown kept them away.
Though the Karnataka government on May 18 allowed barbers across the state to reopen shops/salons from Tuesday, most of them could not as it was a weekly off for their employees and they were busy sprucing up their precincts for customers.
"The rush of customers was so much on the first day of reopening the shop on early Wednesday, we sent away many of them and told others to try their luck in another salon rather than waiting for their turn here," seasoned barber Siddappa told IANS.
Restricting the fourth lockdown since May 18 to May 31 to only Sundays, the state government allowed barbers to reopen shops but with riders that have upset many of them, as they are not used to so many dos and don'ts.
"As part of our business, we keep our premises clean and hygienic, as no customer will step into our shop if it's dirty or messy. But to comply with so many guidelines is difficult as they add to our costs at a time when we have suffered a huge loss due to closure for nearly two months for the first time in life," lamented the 48-year-old Siddappa.
Permitting barbers to reopen their shops, the state health department in an advisory said: "In view of the Covid-19 pandemic, all barber shops, hair cutting salons and parlours should follow the latest guidelines of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs when reopening for business across the state except in containment zones where positive cases are high."
As per the standard operating procedures (SOP), customers with fever, cold, cough and throat pain should not be allowed to enter the shop, says one guideline.
"How do we ensure this without a thermal camera to screen customers who are mostly regulars and have been coming to our shop for years? The government should give us the device free or on lease, as we can't afford to buy it. I don't even know where to get it. No customer risks going to a barber shop when having fever or is unwell even for a shave," asserted the barber.
The barbers and their staff welcomed customers wearing a mask, keeping sanitisers at the shop entrance for customers to wash their hands before and after a haircut or shave though it added to their operational cost.
"As we are desperate to revive our business, we have no choice but to follow the rules rather than face the wrath of health inspectors from the civic body and to avoid being fined," said S. Manjunath, another barber in the city's eastern suburb.
As regular customers were willing to wait for their turn, many barbers kept a register at their shop entrance for taking their name and mobile number to allot a time slot so that they need not queue up or crowd the place in violation of the social distancing norm.
"We are trying to attend to as many customers on first-cum-first served basis, as we are allowed to keep the shop open only for 12 hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and ensure we maintain 2 feet distance between two chairs inside for physical distancing," said Manjunath.
With the state government enforcing a total lockdown on Sundays, the barbers are trying to serve as many customers as possible to make up for the lost business.
"In normal times, it is on Saturdays and Sundays we have maximum business from morning to night, as customers have their weekend off. We hope the government will revoke the order after the fourth lockdown ends on May 31, which is a Sunday," reiterated Siddappa.
To comply with the advisory, the barbers have bought additional masks, head covers and aprons to wear when serving their customers.
"Though these things (wearing head cover and apron) are generally not followed in small shops like ours, we have decided to have them, as customers also expect us to wear them for our protection and their safety," noted Manjunath.
The barbers have agreed to use disposable towels or a paper sheet for each client although it costs them more and cuts into their profit margin.
"We are also sanitising all our equipment after each use on a client to comply with the advisory, avoid complaints from customers and fine by the civic body," noted Siddappa.
On the state government giving Rs 5,000 to each licensed barber as compensation for suffering loss due to the lockdown, Manjunath said he was yet to get the amount credited to his bank account though he applied for it online as advised by his association.
As part of the Rs 1,610-crore relief package to the Covid-affected sections of society, state chief minister B.S.Yediyurappa on May 6 announced Rs 5,000 each of 2,30,000 barbers registered with the state government across the state, as a one-time compensation for suffering huge loss due to closure of their shops during the prolonged lockdown since March 25.