Pubs and restaurants NOT Covid hotspots, contact tracing directors say

Pubs and restaurants are NOT Covid hotspots, contact tracing directors say as they warn system may have to keep tracking coronavirus ‘into the 2030s’

  • Despite hospitality facing hugely damaging restrictions, never been a ‘big risk’
  • Industry rippled financially during Covid crisis under almost all tiered levels
  • Directors of public health in Sheffield and Staffordshire made comments today

Pubs, restaurants and cafes have never been coronavirus hotspots, local public health directors claimed today.

Despite hospitality venues facing hugely damaging restrictions, there has never been a ‘terribly big risk’ of someone catching the disease in them, they said.

Greg Fell, director of public health in Sheffield, and Dr Richard Harling, his counterpart in Staffordshire, said the bulk of transmission has always been in people’s homes.  

The hospitality industry has been crippled financially during the Covid crisis and heavily penalised under almost all lockdown tiers. Under the current national shutdown, venues have been forced to close for everything except takeaways.

In Tier 3 areas the rules were just as tough, and in Tier 2 alcohol could only be served with ‘substantial meals’, pubs and bars were forced to close unless operating as restaurants and last orders were at 10pm.   

Mr Fell and Dr Harling made the comments at a virtual House of Commons Science and Technology Committee today, where they were quizzed about the failings of NHS Test and Trace.

They claimed Britain’s Covid crisis would be ‘in a better place’ now if the centralised system used local contact tracers sooner instead of focusing on call centres.

Mr Fell described the relationship between local health officials and the national system earlier in the year as ‘fundamentally broken’ and, although it has improved, it still ‘has a long way to go’. 

Dr Harding warned he expects to be ‘dealing with cases of coronavirus throughout the 2020s and into the 2030s’ and that test and trace measures will be needed for decades as the country learns to live with the virus which may be around forever. 


Greg Fell, director of public health in Sheffield, and Dr Richard Harling, his counterpart in Staffordshire, said pubs, restaurants and cafes have never been coronavirus hotspots

Despite hospitality venues facing hugely damaging restrictions, there has never been a ‘terribly big risk’ of someone catching the disease in them, they said 

Asked about the risk of transmission in hospitality venues, Mr Fell told MPs on the Commons committee: ‘Most of the transmission events are households, within households, or household to household transmission. 

‘Hospitality doesn’t crop up as a terribly big risk on our risk radar.

‘Certainly when we look at the common exposure dataset, hospitality certainly isn’t a huge risk.

‘There will have been transmission in hospitality, but it’s certainly nowhere near the top of my risk radar.

Dr Harding added: ‘Back in the summer and autumn, once you put transmission between household members aside, the next most important one was transmission between different households.

Hospitality did feature but much lower down the list. At the moment, with hospitality closed, our main one now is other businesses, other workplaces.’

The pair were brought before the Science and Technology Committee to discuss the successes and failings of NHS Test and Trace.

The system has come under huge fire for struggling to meet its target of isolating 80 per cent of close contacts of infected patients for most of 2020.

Mr Fell said the UK would ‘probably be in better place’ if local officials had been ‘consulted earlier’.

When Test and Trace launched last May it relied solely on call centres to track down Covid carriers and their close contacts. 

Local public health officials were eventually brought on board in autumn and physical contact tracers were deployed when performance dipped.

Dr Harding echoed Mr Fell’s comments, adding: ‘Our staff are invested in this, if they are successful in isolating contacts it affects them directly. It’s their community and their families. That’s not quite true with the remote system.’

Asked about the relationship between local health officials and the NHS Test and Trace scheme, Mr Fell said it was ‘improving’, but ‘still has a long way to go’.

‘It’s not as fundamentally broken as it was six to eight months ago,’ he added.

Dr Harding added: ‘It has improved but it’s still relatively remote.’

He said queries with Test and Trace have a ‘long chain of command’ and it often takes too long to get a reponse.

‘NO hard evidence’ pub curfews slow coronavirus transmission

There was ‘no hard evidence’ that England’s controversial 10pm curfew prevented coronavirus from spreading, Sir Patrick Vallance admitted.

The chief scientific adviser said in December the curfew was a ‘policy decision’ designed to limit the amount of time people spent indoors together – where Covid spreads most easily. 

But he conceded the intervention was not backed up with any scientific proof because curfews ‘are not something you can model with any degree of accuracy’.

The 10pm rule was introduced in September across England as part of national lockdown restrictions aimed at curbing the second wave of the epidemic.

However it was heavily criticised by hospitality bosses who said it was damaging the already cash-strapped sector that has been brought to its knees by social distancing and lockdowns.

While local leaders, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan, claimed it led to increased social mixing on the streets and on public transport after final orders.

Sir Patrick told the Commons Health and Science Committee today: ‘There’s no real hard evidence on curfew times.

‘What you can see across Europe and indeed in this country is that keeping people together longer in an indoor environment, where there’s also alcohol, is likely to increase risk. 

‘And therefore that was a policy decision around trying to reduce the potential of interactions.

‘It’s not something you can model with any degree of accuracy and say a particular time will give you a particular result.’

Sir Patrick also admitted 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’.

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