Eating together spreads Covid, third French study confirms

Previous findings showing that sharing meal-times, whether in restaurants or at home, increases viral transmission as masks are removed have been confirmed

8 February 2021
Group of people around table clinking glasses. French study finds social meals increase Covid contaminationThe study showed that the risk of transmission from family and friends was particularly high
By Joanna York

A French study has confirmed that gathering with family and friends over meals increases the risk of contracting Covid-19.

The new study is the third of its kind run by ComCor for l’Institut Pasteur, investigating where Covid-19 contamination is most likely to happen. 

It found that people eating meals together “plays a central role” in the propagation of the virus, confirming conclusions drawn in the first two studies.

The study explained, the virus is transmitted by particles expelled from the nose and mouth as people breathe, cough or talk. When masks are taken off – as they are during meals – the risk of exposure to these particles rises.

It also found a predominance of infections caused by loved ones, as people often relax barrier gestures around those they feel close to. 

Family and friends are major source of transmission

The lead author of the study, epidemiologist and member of the Conseil Scientifique, Professor Arnaud Fontanet, explained the results in an interview with news source Le Journal de Dimanche on February 6.  

He said: “Transmission often happens between family and friends.”

The professor added that transmissions in the workplace had gone down since October due to improved application of barrier gestures such as mask-wearing. 

He said the study found that shops, religious spaces and public transport “no longer increase the risk of infection”, although car-sharing does as “space is reduced and mask-wearing is not systematic”.

Read more: French workers to be allowed (officially) to eat at desks

 

Previous ComCor study used to justify hospitality closures

In the most recent ComCor study, bars and restaurants – currently closed in France – were also confirmed as playing a crucial role in viral transmission, as were shared office spaces and all physical meetings.  

Prime Minister Jean Castex used the findings of one of the previous studies conducted by ComCor to justify the “necessary” continued closure of bars and restaurants in France in December.

Mr Castex told new source Europe 1 in December that the results of the French study showed “the places of contamination are known” to be “private places, restaurants, cafes… places where you cannot keep your mask on, places that are often small and enclosed, places where you spend quite a while with people, places where interactions are stronger than elsewhere”.

Professor says lack of lockdown may make crisis worse

In the interview Professor Fontanet was also asked his opinion on the French government’s decision to avoid lockdown – for now.

He said: “Without confinement, the chances of controlling the epidemic are slim." 

But, he added that there were other factors to consider, including "the economic, social and educational cost [of confinement, which] would have been very high. So, the government decided to give non-confinement a final chance, at the risk of seeing the health situation get worse again and being forced into confinement later."

He added: “If confinement were accepted by the public, it would have allowed us to reduce pressure on hospitals and regain control of the virus.”

Increase in cases predicted in spring

In a previous interview, he said this pressure on hospitals may complicate matters if Covid cases rise - as he expects them to in spring.

Appearing on television program Grand Jury, on January 17, he said: “Unfortunately, considering the Covid variants… I have no rational reason to tell you that we will not see a progression of the epidemic that could start in March or April. 

“In February the problem will continue to be the circulation of the classic virus and it is in March that the UK variant will take over, if not other variants. That is our worry." He added that the new variants could “undermine control of the epidemic”, especially as there had already been a slight rise in cases in France following celebrations over Christmas and New Year.

He said: “What is troubling is that we already have a level of occupation in hospital beds that is highly elevated, as we come to the end of the second wave. Consequently, we do not have much margin for manoeuvre of the epidemic picks up.”

The professor said, in order to control the epidemic, the largest number of people possible should receive Covid vaccines. He said: “In my opinion, that should be at 100%. From the moment that we know a vaccine works and has no undesirable side effects, why hold back? [To stop the virus] we must reach the largest number of people possible.” 

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