The risk of catching coronavirus in a pub or restaurant is ‘relatively low’, the Government’s scientific advisers have admitted.
Analysis by SAGE found the chance of contracting the virus in hospitality settings appeared slightly higher than in gyms or shops, but concluded the risk was still small.
The admission came in a review of studies and data from the UK and around the world into the threat of the virus in the hospitality, leisure and retail sectors.
SAGE found there had been just 226 outbreaks in pubs and restaurants in England since the pandemic began, despite the sector being heavily penalised throughout the Government’s Covid response.
But the number of clusters rose to 343 when fast food outlets, cafes, bars and other eateries were included, according to the data up to February.
Writing in the paper, submitted to ministers at some point in the last two months, SAGE said: ‘Overall, data suggest that the hospitality sector, compared to leisure and retail sectors seems to be associated with greater risk of transmission.
‘But, overall, population attributable fractions (fraction of all cases in a population that is attributable to the setting) associated with transmission in hospitality, retail and leisure are relatively low.’
The finding will raise questions about why the hospitality sector faces another three weeks of closure, despite Covid infection numbers being at record lows.
But experts say closing hospitality was essential to prevent indoor mixing – the biggest driver of Covid spread.
They highlight the number of outbreaks in the sector may be artificially low because venues have been shut for months.
The risk of catching coronavirus in a pub or restaurant is ‘relatively low’, the Government’s scientific advisers have admitted (file)
The SAGE report found the chance of contracting the virus in hospitality settings appeared slightly higher than in gyms or shops, but concluded the risk was still small. Waiters and bar staff were found to be the most at risk. The chart above breaks down how many Covid infections (as a percentage of all cases) were found in each sector in three periods – last summer, during the tiered restrictions in autumn (period 1), during the second lockdown (2), during the tiered restrictions in winter (3) and the third lockdown (4)
Department of Health bosses posted another 2,381 cases today, with the outbreak remaining stable. Last Friday there were 2,678 infections
Pubs and restaurants across the UK have been repeatedly forced to shut through the numerous national lockdowns, firebreakers and tiered restrictions.
The British hospitality sector is said to have lost an average £200million per every day since the crisis first hit.
Since April 12, pubs and restaurants in England have been allowed to serve people outdoors but they are not due to fully open until May 17.
Gyms, shops and hairdressers have also been reopen since April 12 but the Government wants five weeks to make sure those relaxations have had no effect on infection rates before giving hospitality the green light.
THIRD of Britain has seen ZERO Covid deaths this month
Around 22million people are living in areas across the UK where there have been no coronavirus deaths so far in April, official figures revealed today.
Data from the Government’s Covid dashboard suggests the threat of the virus has almost been eradicated in a third of the country, despite everyone still being subjected to harsh lockdown restrictions.
It marks a seismic shift from the UK’s dire situation in January at the height of the second wave, when fewer than 50,000 Britons were in places with zero coronavirus victims during that month.
Analysis by BBC News shows some areas have gone even longer than a month without reporting a Covid death — Plymouth last recorded one 57 days ago and Oxford and Maidstone, in Kent, have gone two months.
The statistics, which go up to April 29, shows fewer than 600 deaths within 28 days of a positive test have been reported this month, compared with more than 30,000 throughout the same period in January.
In its report published today, SAGE warned it was ‘extremely difficult’ to accurately work out how much transmission takes place within a specific sector.
The group said it was hard to disentangle cases who caught the virus in a restaurant compared to those who contracted it while travelling there and back.
But the review suggested restaurants were more risky than shops and gyms because there were more clusters detected and people spent longer dining in them.
It added that sitting down to eat in close proximity to strangers, often with little fresh airflow, posed a greater risk than in gyms or shops where people move around more.
But SAGE noted the findings on clusters should be ‘interpreted with caution’ because some sectors were forced to have Test and Trace in place while others weren’t.
For example, pubs and restaurants during the tiered restriction phase last year were legally required to report it if a customer tested positive in the days before or after visiting. Some gyms did too, but most shops did not keep records of its customers.
The review drew on data from a number of national surveillance studies ran by the Office for National Statistics and Public Health England, as well as the centralised contact tracing system.
It said that the reports ‘offers an opportunity to understand the environments where people spend time, but does not give definitive information on where, when and how transmission occurred’.
While the risk of catching Covid in all three sectors was deemed relatively low for customers, the SAGE paper said staff in these places were at a ‘significantly higher risk of infection’.
Hospitality staff were at the highest risk and venues that had little space for social distancing and poor ventilation were more likely to have high levels of transmission.
It is unclear exactly when the review was carried out but data in the report spans from the start of the pandemic until February.
The analysis was published today by SAGE as part of a weekly release of papers used to help guide the Government through the crisis.
Sir Patrick Vallance, who heads up the advisory panel, admitted to MPs last year that there was very little proof showing that targeting pubs, bars and restaurants with lockdown actually worked.
He said there were strong indications that hospitality settings drive transmission, but admitted ‘we cant give specific data on that and neither can anyone else around the world’.
The Government attempted to justify the brutal restrictions on hospitality in a paper published in November.
It referred to studies in South-East Asia in the early parts of the pandemic but made no assessment of the £500million measures implemented by British venues to make themselves Covid-secure.
Pubs and restaurants were forced to bring in a host of infection control measures last summer, including proving they had a clean supply of ventilation and enough space to social distance.
This content was originally published here.