A study carried out in Scotland analyzes the operation of anticovid measures within premises licensed to sell alcohol and questions whether it is possible to effectively prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

The study explored the practices and behaviors of customers and local staff to assess transmission risks.

The hospitality, both in Spain as in other countries, is one of the most affected sectors by economic crisis derived from pandemic. For a year, its opening hours or closure has been limited in order to stop the contagion curve.

One new study, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, analyzes the operation of anticovid measures in businesses licensed to sell alcohol, and argues whether its managers and clients are capable of effectively and systematically preventing disease transmission.

The investigation, led by the Stirling University (Scotland), took place between May and August 2020 in various types of premises in the country which reopened after a national shutdown, and operated under detailed government guidance aimed at reducing transmission risks.

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According to Niamh Fitzgerald, director of the work, its conclusions will help public health experts and policy makers to consider the impact of the pandemic on hospitality and risks of lifting restrictions. “It is important to understand how the transmission can arise in bars in order to inform about future guidelines, aid, sanctions or other necessary measures,” he explains to SINC.

“Our study explored the practices and customer and staff behaviors of premises to understand whether and how transmission risks could be managed environments where alcohol is served“Says Fitzgerald, who works at the Scottish university’s Institute for Social Marketing and Health.

As it exposes Simon Clarke, Professor of Cellular Microbiology at the University of Reading (England), “Today we know that the virus is easily spread indoors by aerosols and close physical proximity is a major risk factor. Pubs and bars have a number of contact points that can act as sources of infection, even when people are sitting still. What’s more, alcohol is a diuretic, so the trip to the toilets supposes a increased contact with door handles, taps, etc ”.

When the pubs reopened after the initial closure in the UK, the team visited these businesses to observe how government measures actually worked designed to reduce the risks of transmission in hospitality environments, including any incidents that could increase those risks. “We interviewed business owners and representatives prior to reopening to understand the challenges they faced, such as the financial implications and the danger of compromising customer experience with the measures imposed,” he adds.

The key points

Between July and August, 29 expeditions to licensed premises, in which investigators monitored for up to two hours posing as clients. The study found that, although the premises had introduced new provisions, such as improved ventilation, signage, queuing systems, noise management and toilets, and had hand disinfection stations; these were used infrequently.

Most stores required customers to provide their contact details to be able to locate them, but a 31 % of the observed businesses they did not, including one of the venues visited after the Scottish Government made it mandatory in August. Although the staff wore personal protective equipment in most of the premises, in several of them the workers did not do so, wore masks inappropriately or took them off to talk to other employees or customers.

Almost all the locals distanced their tables a meter or more, or had installed partitions between them; however, in several they had the tables closer together than without the partitions. The layout of the premises and the movement of customers within them gave rise to situations where it was difficult to avoid contact close to each other for short periods.

In addition, experts observed more concerning incidents, such as customers repeatedly yelling, hugging or interacting closely with other groups and with staff, and they were rarely effectively stopped. “Potentially significant risks of transmission persisted in at least a substantial minority of the locations studied, especially when the clients had consumed alcohol in excess “Fitzgerald emphasizes.

For Julian Tang, clinical virologist at the University of Leicester (England), “we need to greatly reduce community levels of the virus and increase coverage of vaccination of young adults who attend pubs, restaurants, etc. to prevent any possible resurgence. We don’t want these stores to open too early just to see this go to waste if there is another wave of cases. “

According to the authors, although it is not possible to extrapolate the results directly to other countries, it is possible to consider what could be similar or different in the bars of other territories. “The social environment and alcohol they are probably the biggest challenges in these places. However, there may be states with a different culture or in which people are more respectful of the new norms regarding the transmission of the Covid-19, so reducing risks there will be easier ”.

The challenge of the safe environment

The report notes that Scottish Government guidance does not spell out exactly how bar or security staff are expected to intervene effectively and safely in customer distancing violations, or in handling situations that would normally require close contact. -What the expulsion of drunk or belligerent clients.

In fact, in the interviews carried out by the researchers, the owners of the premises recognized that the staff would have to receive training and be able to apply the new measures, but they also felt that some clients might not appreciate the intervention or even not respond to it.

“Owners are committed to creating safe environments and many locations have made substantial improvements after reopening, such as ventilation. But nevertheless, difficult to ensure compliance of these requirements on the part of the clients and, sometimes, of their own personnel ”, points out Paul Hunter, Professor of Medicine at the University of East Anglia (England).

“This study offers valuable insight into the types of failures that can occur in these places and why they occur. Opening hospitality establishments in the coming months and ensuring that they all offer safe environments will be a key challenge for the UK, ”Hunter continues.

In general, for the authors there are reasons for uncertainty about the degree of application of the standards in a sector in which the interaction between tables, households and strangers It is normal, and in which alcohol is consumed on a regular basis. “It is not possible to completely eliminate transmission risks in any setting,” says Fitzgerald, “but the social atmosphere and environment of many of these locations creates additional risks contrary to sanitary guidelines.”

Closing premises could eliminate these risks, but also cause significant hardship for owners and staff. “It is essential to pay attention to the impact of the closure on the businesses themselves and their employees, the economic activity of the sector, as well as the risks posed by the diversion of part of the alcohol consumption to the home,” he concludes.

The pandemic in Scotland

The United Kingdom began its national confinement on March 20 of last year. In Scotland, licensed premises were allowed to reopen indoor spaces as of July 15, with strict security regulations to minimize the risk of transmission. The premises had to operate with a minimum of physical distance and install adequate signage, all customers had to be seated, staff had to wear face masks and better ventilation and noise reduction measures had to be introduced.

Following a large outbreak in early August linked to these types of venues in Aberdeen, the collection of customer data for contact tracing was established as a legal requirement, and guidance on queuing, standing and handling was strengthened. table service. On January 5, 2021, Scotland again imposed a strict lockdown, very similar to last year, due to the new variant of the coronavirus.