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expert reaction to pubs and restaurants closing early

It has been reported that the Prime Minister plans to announce new restrictions on pubs and restaurants, requiring them to close by 10pm.  

 

Prof Sally Bloomfield, Honorary Professor, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said:

“It’s a simple scientific fact that the coronavirus can only multiply/breed inside living cells. Once a person has become infected and infectious and mounts an immune response, the virus must find a new person to infect – through some form of social contact.  This is what causes the pandemic to continue.  The virus cannot ‘breed’ on environmental surfaces or even on our hands.  That means is that there is a direct connection between increases in the number of person-to-person contacts we have every day and increases in the number of new cases of COVID-19 per day – and vice versa.  The need is to find a sustainable level of social contact. 

“In response to the imposed 10pm pub curfew some people have said ‘Why close pubs at 10pm, does the virus die at 10pm?’ and ‘this means we are going to have to go to the pub earlier’.  They have entirely missed the point.  We need to find better and more personal ways of communicating the bottom line message that restricting social contact is about restricting the spread of virus – not just about preventing social interaction.”

 

Dr Stephen Griffin, Associate Professor in the School of Medicine, University of Leeds, said:

“The move to limit service in hospitality venues to table service is a sensible precaution as this will limit interactions between households at these establishments. I am less convinced that the 10pm curfew will be effective as it runs the risk of compressing activity and having people leave at a single time in larger numbers. Moreover, Mr Gove intimated on the news this morning that people are welcome to extend their night at friends’ houses.

“Again, it seems that the messaging surrounding this sort of restriction is confused and the rationale for implementing it has not been made clear. The concern is that an unfavourable public response to such measures will erode compliance on the fundamental issues of maintaining space and ventilation, wearing face coverings indoors and in crowded areas, and maintaining good hand hygiene. The UK population must be brought together to act in unison if we are to avoid an incredibly difficult and disruptive winter as SARS-CoV2 cases rise again.”

 

Dr Jennifer Cole, Biological Anthropologist, Royal Holloway University, said:

“There has been a lot of concern that closing bars at 10pm rather than closing them at all will seem to make little difference, but people need to remember that the virus doesn’t spread in a vacuum – the biggest influence on its spread is people’s behaviour. Most people know how to prevent spread and, most importantly, how to prevent spread around older or more vulnerable friends and relatives.

“At present, cases are going up but hospitalisations and deaths are staying very low, suggesting that younger and healthier people are taking risks around each other but changing behaviour to be more careful around others in higher-risk groups. In other words, their behaviour is context-dependent.

“We know that one of the biggest influences in people’s risk-taking behaviour is alcohol. The more drunk you are, the less inhibited and less risk-averse you are. Closing the bars and restaurants at 10pm simply keeps people more sober. It gives them plenty of time for a meal, or a quick drink with friends after work, but means they are likely to be sober enough to remember to put on a face-covering on the train or bus home, and to be careful around elderly relatives when they get home. It gives restaurant and bar staff time to give the venue a thorough clean when the last customers have left, without having to work unreasonably late. This means that a lot of the risk is reduced.

“So far, with dining and bars now having been open for weeks, most recording patrons’ details, there have not been routine reports of outbreaks linked to bars and restaurants – it doesn’t seem to be a significant factor in the spread. The measure is not managing people’s behaviour within these venues so much as manging their behaviour when outside, which will be affected by how drunk or sober they are. In essence, the Government is saying, ‘stay sober, stay sensible and the venues can stay open’ – it’s a carrot to encourage responsible behaviour.”

 

Dr Julian Tang, Honorary Associate Professor of Respiratory Sciences at the University of Leicester, said:

“The 10pm curfews for pubs/restaurants are not saying that the virus stops transmitting after 10pm.

“The curfew is designed to stop people meeting after 10pm when they can transmit the virus to more people – i.e. to even more people after 10pm than may have already been exposed in the hours before.

“Of course people can still meet earlier, but the new measures reduce the amount of time that people can meet and potentially transmit the virus to each other.

“Think of it this way – if you look at when people typically leave bars and restaurants in the evening and subtract the number of people who usually leave after 10pm, you can easily see how many people this involves and the potential number and durations of contact this curfew can reduce or prevent.

“We need to do this to avoid greater spread of the virus – and at the same time maintain businesses and the economy.

“This seems like a soft restriction, but it is preferable to total local or national lockdowns; and it could have a useful impact – if everyone tries to stick to it – to hopefully reduce the R number.”

 

Dr Shaun Fitzgerald FREng, Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor at the University of Cambridge, said:

“People are understandably asking what difference closing at 22:00 makes. Well, as Prof Whitty said yesterday, the solution to this crisis is a collective effort. It is about what we can all do, and notably what we can do to help protect others. Closing hospitality at 10pm will likely have some benefit. However, importantly it is a clear sign that things are likely to change unless we can collectively limit our social contacts and heed the ‘hands, face, space and open a window’ message.”

 

 

All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:

www.sciencemediacentre.org/tag/covid-19

 

Declared interests

None received.

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