Even though the risk of covid-19 looms large, life has mostly gone back to normal. We might not still be working from an office space—but when it comes to dining out, partying with friends, and hosting festive get-togethers, we’re back at it.
As we slowly forget the virtues of social distancing, here’s a study from France that might just inspire us to proceed with caution. According to French researchers, spending time in a bar or restaurant increases the risk of catching covid-19. No brainer, there right? Well, the research also goes on to say that having guests over also plays a key role in transmission.
But here’s the thing: the study also points out that these activities can be potentially more dangerous than even using public transport or going shopping.
Researchers from France’s Institut Pasteur sought to find out which factors— like professions, mode of transport, places visited—differentiated participants who had contracted the virus from people who had not.
“We saw an increased risk associated with frequenting bars and restaurants,” said the lead author, Arnaud Fontanet, an epidemiologist and member of the scientific council guiding the government.
The study, called ComCor, has not been peer reviewed but has informed France’s virus response.
It was carried out in October and November, during an initial period of curfew and then even tighter restrictions that saw most establishments partially or completely closed.
ComCor researchers interviewed 3,400 people infected with covid-19 and 1,700 others who did not have the virus.
They found that frequenting restaurants, bars or gyms was associated with an increased risk of infection, whereas using public transport and visiting shops were not.
Health authorities across the world have advised people to avoid crowded indoor spaces as scientists increasingly agree that the new coronavirus can travel in fine clouds of particles known as aerosols that can collect in poorly ventilated rooms.
A September survey by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that adults with positive coronavirus test results were about twice as likely to report having eaten at a restaurant in the previous two weeks than those with negative results.
In November, a study in the journal Nature found that restaurants, gyms and cafes account for most covid-19 infections in the United States.
Using mobile phone data from 98 million people, researchers found about 10 percent of venues accounted for more than 80% of cases.
The ComCor research also tried to pinpoint different circumstances of infection, with surveys of 25,600 infected individuals using health insurance data.
It showed that “meals play a central role in these contaminations”, as people sat close to each other without masks. “Private meetings—families, friends— are the main source of infection,” Fontanet said.
“If people have friendly dinners at their homes rather than going to a restaurant, it doesn’t make a difference,” he concluded.
(With inputs from AFP)