'Spells trouble': Hidden threat as restaurants, pubs and cafes start to open

Tom Flanagan
News Reporter

A leading immunology expert has warned of the dangers of inside spaces amid the coronavirus pandemic as Australia begins to ease its restrictions at pubs, cafes and restaurants.

Immunologist Professor Erin Bromage at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth has warned that indoor spaces will likely pose the biggest threat in spreading the virus as we ease COVID-19 restrictions.

“Any environment that is enclosed, with poor air circulation and high density of people, spells trouble,” he explained in a recent blog post.

From Friday, NSW will allow pubs, cafes and restaurants to accomodate up to 10 patrons for food.

Cafes and restaurants are being allowed to open under strict guidelines. Source: Getty

Queensland, WA and the Northern Territory have announced similar plans, offering a much-needed lifeline to smaller businesses where such levels of custom can have a significant impact.

However, in South Australia, where the virus has virtually been stamped out with just one active case remaining, any hospitality openings are to be done in outside spaces.

Such a move aligns with Prof Bromage’s advice, who warned people should avoid smaller, indoor spaces where possible.

“Social distancing guidelines don't hold in indoor spaces where you spend a lot of time,” he explained, noting restaurants and cafes are no different.

Prof Bromage shared a diagram from research published by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention that details the infection of nine people after they dined in a small restaurant in Guangzhou, south China, on January 24.

They ate at three separate tables, however one of those, accomodating a family who had recently arrived in the city from Wuhan, had a family member who had already contracted the virus.

The diagram showing how nine people became infected from initial carrier A1. Source: CDC

Why coronavirus spreads faster indoors

Due to the airflow inside the restaurant from air conditioners and the lack of windows, the virus spread to the two neighbouring tables, later leading to the infection of a further nine patrons.

And while Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy continues to stress the importance of distancing ourselves from one another moving forward, Prof Bromage believes social distancing is far less effective indoors, particularly when people are spending over an hour with others in areas such as cafes and restaurants.

“Social distancing rules are really to protect you with brief exposures or outdoor exposures,” he explained.

“The principle is viral exposure over an extended period of time.”

Prof Bromage also revealed restaurants that are louder than others will pose a bigger threat to infection as loud speakers emit more droplets.

“The louder you talk the more you release... the environment you get in, the louder it is, the louder you have to talk which just means there’s going to be more in the air if there are infected people around,” he told CNN.

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