Bars and restaurants bigger Covid-19 risks than transport and shops, French scientists find

Spending time in a bar or restaurant increases the risk of catching Covid-19, French researchers said Thursday, whereas using public transport and visiting shops did not.

Bars and restaurants bigger Covid-19 risks than transport and shops, French scientists find
Photo: AFP

The latest study adds to evidence that socialising and eating out are far more dangerous than other activities such as using public transport or shopping.

Having guests over for dinner also plays a key role in transmission, the study found.

It comes as Europe and the Unites States in particular are grappling with surging infection rates and the start of a holiday season normally characterised by parties and family get-togethers.

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The study, called ComCor, has not been peer reviewed but has informed France's virus response.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.

Fontanet told AFP that because bars and restaurants are not functioning as normal, it was difficult to gauge their exact role in transmission, and acknowledged that closing these businesses was a “sensitive” move.

French cafes and restaurants have remained closed even after nationwide restrictions were eased earlier this week.

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.

Restaurants in France reopened over the summer, although under strict health rules and mostly outdoor seating. Photo: AFP

'Friendly dinners'

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 percent 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.”

The researchers stressed the importance of organising such gatherings in “the safest way possible” to protect vulnerable people over the holidays.

Member comments

  1. Yet another study that demonstrates its all about masks. Other studies have shown that mask wearing protesters did not spike Covid and mask-wearing public transit riders have not seen a spike in Covid, even though both involved a lot people in close proximity. Eating, drinking, and exercising – all activities when people remove their masks. All associated outings have seen a spike in Covid.

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‘Public opinion is ready’ – These French senators want to legalise marijuana

A group of 31 French senators of the Socialist, Green and Republican parties have come together to write a statement calling for the legalisation of marijuana in France.

'Public opinion is ready' - These French senators want to legalise marijuana

France is known for having some of the strictest laws regarding marijuana consumption in Europe – while simultaneously maintaining one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the EU. 

A group of French senators – coming from the Socialist, Green and centre-right Les Républicains parties – are trying to change those laws, and have come together to call for marijuana to be legalised in France.

The group of 31 co-signed a statement published in French newspaper, Le Monde, on Wednesday, August 10th.

In the statement, the senators promised to launch a ‘consultation process’ to submit a bill to legalise marijuana “in the coming months.”

The proposition was headed by Senator Gilbert-Luc Devinaz, a member of the Socialist Party, and gained support from the party’s leader, Patrick Kanner.

READ MORE: The long and winding road towards changing France’s cannabis laws

A report by the Assemblé Nationale, which was published in May 2021, estimated that nearly 18 million French people (more than 25 percent of the population) had already consumed marijuana, and that an additional 1.5 million consume it regularly.

This, coupled with the 2019 finding that nearly one in two French people (45 percent) said they were in favour of legalisation, according to a survey by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT), helped strengthen the senators’ position.

“Public opinion is ready, the legislature must act,” they wrote.

Their senators argue that legalising marijuana in France will allow the authorities to better protect French citizens, saying that legalising would not require “minimising the health impacts of cannabis consumption” but rather would allow regulation similar to “public policies for tobacco, alcohol or gambling.”

For the group of 31 senators, the benefits of legalisation would involve a better control over the “health quality of products consumed,” “curbing trafficking in disadvantaged areas,” developing large-scale prevention plans,” and finally the taxation of cannabis products and redirection of law enforcement resources. Decriminalisation – in their opinion – would not be sufficient as this would simply “deprive authorities the ability to act,” in contrast to legalisation. 

READ MORE: Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?

“In the long term, new tax revenues would be generated from the cannabis trade and from savings in the justice and police sectors”, which would make it possible to mobilize “significant resources for prevention as well as for rehabilitation and economic development,” wrote the senators.

In France, the conversation around cannabis has evolved in recent years – former Health Minister (and current government spokesman) Olivier Véran said to France Bleu in September 2021 that “countries that have gone towards legalisation have results better than those of France in the last ten years,” adding that he was interested in the potential therapeutic use of cannabis.

Currently, the drug is illegal in France. Previously, it fell under a 1970-law of illicit drug use, making it punishable with up to a year prison and an up to €3,750 fine.

However, in 2020, the government softened the penalties, making it possible for those caught consuming it to opt for an on-the-spot fine of €200.

There is also an ongoing trial involving 3,000 patients to test the impacts of medical marijuana usage, particularly with regard to pain relief.