Experts say Covid-19 ‘thrives’ on people being in close contact in closed spaces


The Government is expected to announce new measures that could see pubs and bars forced to close in coronavirus hotspots, but local leaders say they have seen no data that the hospitality sector is responsible for transmission.

However, some experts argue it is well known that social distancing is an effective way of keeping the virus under control, and that it thrives on human contact.

Calum Semple, professor of outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told BBC Breakfast the science is "clear" that social distancing is the most effective way of stopping the virus.

He added that most of the outbreaks are happening within and between households and then after that, it is in the retail and hospitality sector.

Asked about the specific science underpinning restrictions on hospitality, Prof Semple said: "Alcohol and people's behaviour are well known to be factors that result in relaxation of one's adherence to regulations, let's put it politely.

"And so I can understand why this move is happening."

England's deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam was also asked about the data relating to the spread of Covid-19 in hospitality settings.

Speaking at a Downing Street briefing, he did not want to pre-empt any announcements, but said: "We do know that this virus, unfortunately, thrives on the thing we like most, which is human contact."

He added that the three Cs messaging put out by Japan's government highlights conditions that favour the spread of the virus, including closed spaces, crowded spaces and close contact.

Prof Van-Tam also drew attention to D – duration of contact, and V – the volume at which people speak, citing that the louder they are the further virus-laden particles are likely to spread.

Prof Van-Tam said: "So all of those settings where the three Cs and duration and volume may apply are areas where the virus will thrive and spread, if we allow it to."

Coronavirus - Mon Oct 12, 2020
Coronavirus - Mon Oct 12, 2020

While Professor Sir Robert Lechler, president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he is satisfied that bars and restaurants are sites of transmission.

He said: "I'm not privy to the data itself because I'm not a member of Sage, but what I understand, from people like (chief medical officer for England) Chris Whitty, is that there is emerging evidence that hospitality venues are sites of transmission.

"And certainly, when you see the televised images of the close mixing of people without any kind of protective masks and so on, it seems intuitively rather likely, I think, that that also is the case."

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said evidence suggests there is a higher risk of transmissions in hospitality settings, with academic evidence from the United States.

But Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese said he has seen no data.

He told Today: "They have not been able to show us any data that connects bars and pubs in Greater Manchester with transmission of the Covid-19 virus.

"They have not been able to provide any evidence that closing them down will work.

"We have far more finely-grained data collected by our own directors of public health that seems to demonstrate that there is not a particular connection between bars and restaurants and the transmission of Covid."

Public Health England's latest surveillance report sets out that since August 10, people who test positive are also asked about places they have been and activities they have done in the days before becoming unwell.

The report says that although this can't say for certain if this is where someone picked up the infection, the information may be helpful to indicate possible places where transmission is happening.

From September 21 to 27, 14,826 people testing positive were referred to NHS Test and Trace and reported at least one event within the enhanced contact tracing time period.

In total, 28,486 events were reported, and the most common activities were shopping (3,799 events, 13.3% of all those reported) and eating out – which includes visiting pubs and bars (3,699 events, 13.0%).