How businesses operate underground in conditions of self-isolation

Alexander Kryazhev/Sputnik
In the space of 48 hours, our correspondent managed to sign up for a photo shoot, a manicure, and even an erotic massage. Everywhere safety is guaranteed.

“It works like this — you pick a day and time, turn up with your guy, and the jacuzzi and champagne will be waiting. You drink, relax, and when you’re ready, two masseuses will come in and do all the procedures you want,” says Lana, who runs an erotic massage parlor in St Petersburg, tells me over the phone. It’s open 24/7, and you can visit alone or with a partner.

According to Lana, the procedures include the "complete relaxation of both partners." The service costs 10,500 rubles ($140) for two hours. When asked about client safety, she almost bursts out laughing:

“There’s no coronavirus, that’s for sure. It’s all make-believe! In any case, we wash all the rooms after each client, it’s impossible to get infected with anything.”

Clothing stores, beauty salons, cafes, restaurants, and other SMEs began closing throughout Russia on March 28 due to the coronavirus outbreak. However, not everyone is obeying the rules. On April 15, the owner of a beauty salon in Moscow was fined 50,000 rubles ($670) for defying the lockdown. Two days earlier, a man was fined the same amount for selling fast food outside a station in Moscow. What’s more, the fine for sole traders can range from 50,000 ($670) to 150,000 rubles ($2,000), and for legal entities from 200,000 ($2,680) to 500,000 rubles ($6,700). In addition to fines, businesses can be suspended for up to 90 days.

In St Petersburg, cafes, bars, hookah lounges, beauty salons, pawnshops, and computer clubs continue to operate illegally. A total of 620 quarantine violators were detected in April. There are similar cases not only in the two capitals, but throughout Russia. Many are facing an existential dilemma: go bankrupt due to lack of customers, or break the law and risk getting fined or worse. Then there are those that remain open out of pure self-interest: in the absence of supply, demand for some services can be very large indeed.

Beauty versus quarantine

Some photo studios in Moscow remain open to photographers and models. One of them invites clients to clarify its business hours on Instagram or WhatsApp.

In response to my message, the administrator says the photo studio is open by appointment, and asks me to check the schedule on the studio’s official website. Judging by what I see, it hosts at least several shootings a day. On April 28, for example, the studio was fully booked from 11am to 5pm.

“Our entire administration abides by the social-distancing rules, and we don’t let more than five people in the studio at any one time. Plus there are hand-sanitizers at the entrance, so everything is safe. Well, we have to pay the rent somehow so we can’t close completely,” the administrator explains over the phone.

Another photo studio in Moscow, Loft 812, states that it continues to work 24/7. “Every day we disinfect the studio with a bactericidal UV lamp, and we’ve ordered masks, bleach, and gloves,” says the administrator.

Safer in the salon

In Moscow and the surrounding region, some beauty salons also continue to operate. In one such salon, I manage to sign up for a manicure via WhatsApp. True, it’s for a session at the manicurist’s home.

“The salon is closed now, so people come to my place. I have all the equipment I need. I wipe everything down with alcohol and wear a mask. Well, if women can’t remove nail polish themselves, are they supposed to just suffer or what? It’s important to be beautiful at home too,” says Marina.

Other beauty salons that are officially closed due to COVID-19 have all posted the same text on their Instagram accounts with the hashtag #Безопаснеевсалоне (safer in the salon).

“It makes no sense to be worried about getting infected in a salon where everything is sterilized no less than in a doctor’s surgery. The main threat to the beauty industry from the lockdown is that salons will go underground. At home it’s impossible to guarantee 100% safety, not only against the virus but also against dangerous infections like HIV and hepatitis,” beauty salons across Russia announce in unison.

When will everything reopen officially?

It is still unknown when exactly small businesses will be allowed to reopen, but Rospotrebnadzor, the Russian state regulator for the consumer market, is already preparing for that sacred day, and has published recommendations on how beauty salons, laundries, dry cleaners, ateliers, car repair shops, and non-food stores can operate when the virus is past its peak and the country starts to come out of lockdown. But no exact date has been set.

In particular, the document states that visitors to beauty salons will be temporarily banned from being served tea and coffee, hairdressers will be required to serve each client in a separate room, all employees will have to have their temperature taken before each shift, and premises will need to be thoroughly cleaned with disinfectant before opening.

“We have been proactive in drawing up a list of recommendations for institutions and enterprises that are still closed in most regions. This was done specifically so that businesses understand the conditions under which they will be able to operate safely in the context of the ongoing pandemic and the world of the new coronavirus infection,” stated Anna Popova, head of Rospotrebnadzor, on April 24.

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