At first glance, the equation is very simple: fewer contacts mean fewer infections. It is therefore sensible and, given the record number of new infections, advisable to restrict life. To do this, restaurants have to close or accept early curfew hours. Overnight stays outside of the city have to be avoided, major events should be canceled, concerts and sporting events anyway – then the number of infections will drop again. Or is it not?
“In principle, yes, but …” would answer the legendary and fictional Radio Yerevan. Because it’s not that easy. Take gastronomy as an example: months ago a study from the trade journal spread Emerging Infectious Diseases Fear and Loathing. It showed how an infected person infected nine other guests in a Chinese restaurant, even though they were sitting at different tables. In the excitement, hardly any attention was paid to the fact that the air conditioning system was a kind of fan, i.e. a virus spreader, with which droplets and aerosols containing Sars-CoV-2 were distributed among the 83 guests at the restaurant in Guangzhou.
If restaurants follow the instructions on distance and hygiene, and if they have even installed new air filters, they do not pose a higher risk. At least the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) assigns restaurants and pubs only a minimal share of the outbreak events, even if this is becoming increasingly difficult to understand. In its management report, the RKI mentions private households, the workplace and leisure activities, as well as retirement homes and clinics.
According to the RKI, larger outbreaks in rural districts are reported “from the private and school environment”, among residents of communal accommodation, as well as by employees in a nursing home and a hospital; minor outbreaks in a hockey team and a butcher shop. An analysis by the US Disease Protection Agency (CDC) came to the conclusion that visits to restaurants, bars or cafés can double or even triple the risk of infection, but the range of findings was wide, which is probably due to how carefully protective regulations are implemented. So it depends.
The situation is similar with the study situation on accommodation, i.e. overnight stays abroad. Anyone who travels in an exemplary manner in terms of hygiene, moves into their room alone or with friends, goes hiking or cycling in small groups, will not increase the risk of infection. If, on the other hand, larger groups meet in the hotel, throw themselves into what is left of city life every evening and put their heads together again at breakfast in the morning, the city tour can become a superspreading event.
Concerts and major events? Many theaters and other stages have recently shown in exemplary fashion that a reduced program with a reduced number of visitors is possible and largely safe. Free rows of seats, spacing, ventilation upwards as with new extractor hoods. So go. However, if the performance of individual artists is discussed in groups after the performance, the best protection concept is of no use. And when 460,000 bikers come to the small town of South Dakota for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August, partying, listening to music and not wearing a mask, one needn’t be surprised when thousands are newly infected afterwards.
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In this respect, it applies to all prescribed and discussed restrictions that the type of implementation is decisive. Science can show what to expect when certain guidelines are met. Extremes and excesses or even just local peculiarities counteract the picture. Just a few days ago, a model study with data from 131 countries was published in the medical journal Lancet showed that various social restrictions significantly reduce the R number after about ten days, i.e. the number of people infected by an infected person. However, the research also shows how much detail matters. Sport also proves this. The professional leagues have been playing again for months, the international competition is on. Regular tests, close medical care and a security concept make this possible for a less endangered, privileged group. The old man’s team, which plays standing soccer in the autumnal aerosol mist and then lets their beer circle, has less protection.