Compassionate Eye Foundation/Gary Burchell via Getty ImagesThis study by the Institut Pasteur points to the central role of meals in Covid (photo illustration)
MEALS – Going to restaurants or bars increases the risk of catching Covid-19 and meals in general play a central role in contaminations according to a study by the Pasteur Institute. A study can not be more topical when we know that before being tested positive for the coronavirus this Thursday, December 17, Emmanuel Macron had dinner the night before with a dozen guests.
“We see in this study an increased risk associated with frequenting bars and restaurants,” explains theAFP its main author, Arnaud Fontanet, an epidemiologist at the Institut Pasteur and a member of the Scientific Council that guides the government.
But “we must be careful” in interpreting these results “on an eminently sensitive subject”, he insists. The study, called ComCor, was carried out in late October / early November, during the curfew and then the start of confinement, when the establishments were partially or even completely closed.
It is therefore difficult to know “what is the real part of restaurants and bars in the transmission” of the virus, since this period did not correspond to their normal functioning.
A study to be taken with a grain of salt
According to the study, the risk increases even more during confinement than during curfew. An element that seems paradoxical since the establishments were then supposed to be completely closed.
“This suggests that there were bars and restaurants open clandestinely during the confinement” and that the people who went there, even fewer, “were exposed to it a lot”, argues Professor Arnaud Fontanet.
In recent weeks, restaurant owners have protested against the closures, saying they were not scientifically justified.
Prime Minister Jean Castex firmly rejected these accusations: “We have international studies”, he said on Europe 1 on Tuesday, assuring that for the French side, the ComCor study would “confirm” that the closure restaurants and bars was “necessary”.
An interpretation vigorously denounced by professionals Thursday, after the publication of ComCor.
The study “comes to say what one wants to make him say, by means if necessary of purely scandalous and defamatory statements”, rebelled the Umih, main employers’ organization of the sector, the GNI (independents), the GNC (hotel chains) and the SNRTC (commercial catering) in a joint press release.
“This study is not serious, we want to prove without evidence, it is an insult to professionals”, added Didier Chenet, president of the GNI, to theAFP.
Two American studies recently pointed out the role of restaurants in contamination. One was published in September by the Atlanta Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the other in November in the medical journal Nature.
“There is a bundle of arguments”, says Arnaud Fontanet, citing these two works, his own study as well as “numerous descriptions of transmission in restaurants” around the world. “The whole shows that it is a risky place, on the other hand, the extent of the risk must be reassessed under much more traditional opening conditions” than those of his study, he adds.
To reach this conclusion, ComCor researchers interviewed 3,400 volunteers infected with Covid-19 and 1,700 others who were not infected. The goal: to define risk factors (profession, mode of travel, places visited …) by comparing infected and non-infected.
This is how they determined that frequenting restaurants, bars or gyms was associated with an increased risk, unlike public transport or shops (food, clothing, etc.).
Private meetings, the main source of infection
In addition to this section on risk factors, the ComCor study includes another section on the circumstances of contamination. It concerns 25,600 infected people drawn from the health insurance files (Cnam), questioned by questionnaire.
It shows that “meals play a central role” in the contaminations of which the origin is known, “whether in a family environment, friendly or to a lesser degree professional”, since we are close to each other, and without mask.
“Private meetings – families, friends – are the main source of infection,” recalls Arnaud Fontanet. “If people have friendly dinners at their homes rather than going to a restaurant, that doesn’t change anything”.
44% of those infected knew how they had been infected. In addition, a very large number (97%) have isolated themselves, but often too late, for example while waiting to be tested.
Here again, however, it must be taken into account that the particular period of the ComCor study does not allow a definitive conclusion to be drawn.
It will be continued in the coming months to refine these initial results and to learn more about the transmission of the virus in other places, such as places of culture.
“It is not a censorship tool to say ‘Be careful, this is where it is happening’, but on the contrary a tool that will accompany reopening to see if we detect an excess risk”, concludes Professor Fontanet .
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