World / Science & Health

Did bar reopenings lead to virus spikes? Probably. And protests? Probably not.

by Michael Erman

Reuters

Over the past 3 months, millions of people have taken to the streets to protest against racism, while bars and restaurants have reopened around the world, as have some factories, food markets and even outdoor concerts.

Did any of these events contribute to the spike in COVID-19 infections that are now close to 12 million, with the death toll exceeding 540,000?

This is what some experts say:

Black Lives Matter protests

Thousands of people took to the streets across the U.S. beginning in late May to join Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality. Protesters also marched to support the movement in cities in Europe and Asia, prompting concerns of surges in new coronavirus cases.

Public health experts say there has yet to be conclusive evidence of large-scale spread from these events. “The protests were outdoors in a very large area,” said Dr. Marybeth Sexton, assistant professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine. Sexton noted “a lot of attempts at masking, distancing, hand-sanitizing” during the protests that also helped prevent transmission.

Reopening of bars

Public health experts have said that bar and restaurant openings in regions including U.S. states like Texas and Florida, Spain and South Korea have contributed to outbreaks of the virus.

“The equation for major prevention of this virus is really pretty simple: it’s masks, and avoid congregating indoors and … staying away from people if you’re sick or if you’ve been in contact with somebody who’s sick,” said Dr. Jared Baeten, Vice Dean of the School of Public Health at University of Washington, who called some of the bar and restaurant openings an “unmitigated disaster.”

Spain has had to impose restrictions on about 70,000 people in the northwestern region of Galicia following an outbreak linked to bars near the port area of A Marina.

South Korea has reported at least 271 cases as of Saturday linked to a handful of nightclubs and bars in Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood.

On the other hand, thousands gathered in cities across France for the annual June 21 “Fete de la Musique” event just days after it eased strict lockdown measures to take in mostly outdoor concerts in cafes, bars and city squares.

Many participants did not wear protective masks but data shows infection rates remaining stable since late May.

“The fact that most concerts were outside has helped contain the risk,” said Martin Blachier, head of market access and value with Paris-based epidemiological and disease modeling firm Public Health Expertise.

Factories

An outbreak in the city of Leicester, which entered England’s first localized lockdown last week, has been attributed in part to working conditions in garment factories.

Meat-processing plants around the world have also proved to be coronavirus infection hotspots.

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