A well-known aesthetic medical doctor in Singapore, Dr Siew Tuck Wah took to his Facebook on Tuesday (19 May), voicing out his concerns on the unfairness that aesthetic clinics are not allowed to resume operations while other businesses such as hair salons and healthcare services can resume activities after the end of the circuit breaker on 1 June.
As informed by the Ministry of Health (MOH) that aesthetic clinics cannot reopen, Dr Siew, who is also the medical director of Radium Medical Aesthetics, said that he found no reason why businesses such as hair salons are allowed to open but not aesthetic clinics.
“There is no logical reason why businesses such hair salons can open, while aesthetic clinics cannot. We fall into ‘healthcare services’, we perform ‘medical procedures’, and we implement ‘safe work’ measures – all the conditions that are stated, and we have met, in Phase 1, Safe Reopening,” he wrote.
According to the multi-ministry taskforce, under the Phase 1 resumption, which will be implemented from 2 June, hairdressers and barbers will be allowed to resume offering all hairdressing services.
The Government will also allow healthcare services such as specialist outpatient services, medical procedures, allied health services, community-based services, and chronic disease management to resume operations; though on the conditions of maintaining appropriate safe distancing and precautionary measures.
Meanwhile, complementary healthcare services will resume for one-to-one sessions and by appointment, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) needle acupuncture will be allowed for all conditions.
In Dr Siew’s post, he pointed out that the risk of virus transmission in hair salons and healthcare services are “equal to, or greater than that in an aesthetic clinic”.
The risk of transmission is “actually lower” though both aesthetic clinics and non-medical services like hair salons are in close contact between persons “for a considerable period of time”, wrote Dr Siew.
Dr Siew also claimed that aesthetic clinics have been implementing the necessary measures to maintain “the highest standard of hygiene” as well as prevent communicable diseases.
“As fully qualified doctors who have received 6 years of education and several more years in training, we of all people know what measures are necessary to maintain the highest standard of hygiene and to curb the spread of communicable diseases in our clinics.
“Spacing out appointments, sterilisation of surfaces before and after every patient, restriction of movements, and change of bedsheets after each patient are examples of some measures many clinics, including ours, are already currently doing since the existence of COVID-19,” he noted.
Aside from this, Dr Siew argued that aesthetic clinics services can actually be deemed as “essential services”.
“My patients have exclaimed that to them, coming for treatments in my clinic is ‘absolutely essential’. But jokes aside, conditions such as rosacea and acne need to be treated as they can flare up. Acne, in particular, can cause permanent disfiguring, if left untreated. Others patients who have problems with sensitive skin need regular reviews and treatments. All of them are now unable to come to clinic,” he said.
Dr Siew rebuts the claims that aesthetic clinics had earned a lot, saying it is a “common misconception”
Dr Siew stated that the news of not allowing aesthetic clinics to resume was a “heavy blow” for him.
“2 months with no income and continued overheads was a struggle. But this third month is going to be much worse,” he remarked.
Dr Siew claimed that a third month of not operating means that they will have to continue with zero revenue and absent of any financial assistance such as rental rebates and wage support scheme – which have been given in the first two months of the circuit breaker.
Highlighting the financial concerns faced by aesthetic clinics amid this trying time, he also rebutted the claims that aesthetic clinics had earned a lot, saying that the revenues earned will be used for paying running costs and purchasing consumables.
“Running costs such as rental, manpower, loans add up to $160,000 – $180,000 a month, for an aesthetic clinic like mine. Then there are the consumables, such as toxins, fillers and threads, some which do not have a long shelf life. The value of consumables that have expired or are close to expiry amount to more than $10,000.
“The common misconception is that aesthetic clinics make a lot of money. In fact, most of the revenue go into purchasing consumables, wages, rental and upgrading of machines in a rapidly evolving field, which customers are always looking out for newer, better technology,” he wrote.
While Dr Siew is aware how crucial the circuit breaker is to stem the spread of COVID-19, he still expressed his resentment over the “harsh measures” that the Government has imposed on the aesthetic clinics.
“I cannot help but feel that these harsh measures imposed on aesthetic clinics from the ministry are driven by more than just public health considerations,” he noted.
Given the worsening situation, Dr Siew also hinted that the clinics have considered taking drastic measures like asking their staff to take unpaid leave, or worse, to the extent of having to downsize and retrench their staff – which is what they have been trying to avoid for months.
“The Ministry is forcing us into a corner, so that we can no longer protect the staff we promised to look after under our care.”
“Some of our staff are local, while some come from Malaysia, for a better life. That is now be threatened to be taken away because for reasons we cannot fathom, other than a deliberate attempt to single out the medical aesthetic industry. Or perhaps a desperate attempt to conserve manpower on the frontline (Many aesthetic doctors are volunteering at the frontline during the circuit breaker). But those are unfair reasons.
Nonetheless, he assured that aesthetic doctors will continue to uphold their ethics and provide assistance at the frontline even after the end of the circuit breaker, despite having to deal with cosmetic problems.
“We are not spared from mundane needs to make ends meet. We are subject to the same financial stresses that all business in Singapore face.
“Not allowing us to resume operations of any sort after the circuit breaker is devastating, and unfair to us. We will not be able to survive for much longer,” Dr Siew concluded.
More COVID-19 financial assistance for businesses and workers to announce on 26 May
The multi-ministry taskforce announced on Tuesday (19 May) that the country will proceed to exit the circuit breaker when it ends on 1 June as it sees the daily number of new community cases has declined significantly and the dormitory situation has stabilised.
However, there will be a controlled approach to resume activities safely over three phases, the taskforce noted.
Economic activities that do not pose high risk of transmission will resume first, while social, economic, and entertainment activities that carry higher risk will remain closed.
To ease the financial pressure of Singaporeans amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat noted that further financial assistance for businesses and workers will be announced next week (26 May) at 3.30pm in Parliament.
Mr Heng stated that this financial aid is for those who will not be able to resume activities right after the circuit breaker ends on 1 June.
“I understand the disappointment of some businesses and workers who will not be able to resume activities immediately when the circuit breaker ends. For these workers and businesses, the Government will help tide you over this period of continued closure,” he remarked.
At the same time, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Tuesday also said that more businesses will be allowed to gradually resume operations, starting with those that operate in settings with lower transmission risks.
He noted that the economic sectors that are allowed to resume activities on 2 June – which is the Phase One resumption – include manufacturing and production, finance and insurance, wholesale trade (excluding retail storefronts), transport and storage, and professional services.
For the businesses that are not included in the Phase One resumption, Mr Chan urged that they ought to “actively prepare” for resumption in the next phase.
He hinted that some businesses will need to put in place additional measures, particularly those which interact closely with the public. “While others will need to develop new business models to operate safely.”
“Ultimately, our ability to allow more sectors to resume operations will depend on the overall infection control situation and the ability of our businesses to develop and implement the necessary measures soonest,” Mr Chan added.