Therapy centres still reeling from lockdown

Andrew Davey said that each lockdown has been harder and harder to recover from. Pics: STEWART CHAMBERS 244894_05

By Gabriella Payne

When Melbourne’s fifth lockdown was lifted recently, many small businesses breathed a sigh of relief at the news – but those in the wellness industry have been left struggling to hang on.

Andrew Davey owns and operates a salt therapy centre, Salts of the Earth, in Narre Warren South and said his business had suffered greatly and felt the detrimental impacts of each Covid lockdown.

“I can’t even believe we’ve still survived,” Mr Davey said.

“I know a few businesses in my network that are just about done, which is really sad to see, but I’ve got to recover, I’ve got no option,” he said.

While many businesses have been able to return to some form of normality in the past few weeks, Mr Davey said that it was a totally different ball game for businesses in the wellness industry, as they often had much stricter regulations they had to adhere to – and the masks were proving particularly tricky when it came to salt therapy.

For those unfamiliar with the treatment, salt therapy is a natural remedy that involves inhaling pharmaceutical-grade dry salt in a comfortable controlled environment – a therapeutic way of soothing a long list of skin, respiratory and lifestyle conditions.

As patients sit back and relax, a special machine called a halogenerator disperses microscopic salt particles into the room, which they then breathe deep into their airways to help with things like asthma, emphysema and a host of other conditions – but in Covid times, this poses a unique hurdle for the business to overcome.

“We’re such a small industry and we don’t have a classification as such, so we’ve been grouped in with the wellness industry, but our clients have to have their face masks off for the treatment to be beneficial, because you need to be able to breath in the salt,” he explained.

“So as long as the face mask rule is in place we have to remain closed and there’s never any government support for that, we’re told that’s just the way it is.”

Mr Davey said that before the pandemic began, he had plenty of work for himself and his nine staff but had been forced to cut his workforce back to three people, including himself, and the business was still struggling to stay afloat.

“Financially, you can’t even describe it,” he said.

“We’ve used all our savings, we’ve stripped our super, it’s been tough.

“We’ve been fortunate in that we have an extremely good landlord who has really helped us out, but we’ve still had to fight for every government grant that we’ve managed to get, nothing has come easy.”

“The biggest thing is that the lockdowns get ended but we are still forced to remain closed,” Mr Davey explained.

“When lockdown two was lifted, we were closed for over a month longer than everyone else.”

Mr Davey said that while he understood the lockdowns were necessary, with such small capacity limits, his business was left “running at a loss” and it was really frustrating to see people jamming into cafes and flaunting the rules in other areas.

“I just think we need to be more consistent about what can reopen,” he said.

“Last lockdown I went up to Fountain Gate before we could reopen, and I saw some cafes that were jam-packed.

“There was somewhere between 50-100 people crammed into a smaller space than my centre, and we have a sterile environment with really good Covid practices and we can’t open, but that’s deemed safe? It’s just really frustrating,” he said.