Restaurants and bars weigh heavily in the toll of COVID-19 in Montreal

At the start of the fourth wave, more than a third of the cases of COVID-19 linked to the workplaces of the metropolis were identified in bars and restaurants. A portrait that has many experts say that with the spread of the Delta variant and the imminent closure of the terraces, it is important to maintain the barrier measures and to implement the vaccine passport in all directions.

The number of COVID-19 cases linked to bars and restaurants rose from a dozen on August 10 to 23 the following week, then to 53 on August 31, and finally to 50 cases on September 7, according to data from the Montreal Public Health Department.

This sector of the economy therefore weighs heavily in the Montreal portrait of infections associated with workplaces, followed at a distance by the other commercial and personal services industry (27 cases on September 7), then that of manufacturing and transformation (21 cases). Across Quebec, a lookout for outbreaks in workplaces covering the period from August 15 to 21 is also observing an increase in infections in the restaurant sector, accounting for 28% of total infections.

The Dr David Kaiser, of the Direction de santé publique de Montréal, is not surprised that outbreaks are hitting these areas. “When you’re in a bar, you don’t have a mask. We know that the mask is effective. We know that the Delta is more transmissible and that in these places, there are interactions between the population and the workers. The vaccination obligation only affects the clientele, ”he notes.

By comparison, the business and personal services community follows far behind with 33 of 137 cases associated with workplace outbreaks in Montreal as of August 31, and 27 cases on September 7.

Since the start of the school year, however, outbreaks in daycare services have resumed with 79 infections, and infections in schools are also expected to resume.

Required since 1is September to go through the doors of bars and restaurants, the vaccination passport does not seem to have had any visible effect, at least for the moment. “What effect will this have? We can think that within 2 to 3 weeks, we will have an additional layer of protection ”, suggests the Dr Kaiser.

A more “sensitive” environment

Experts consulted by The duty recall that the prolonged removal of the mask, during the consumption of meals or drinks, makes these establishments more “sensitive” to outbreaks.

“Several factors come into play. And even if part of the population is vaccinated and employees must wear masks, the Delta variant is muddying the waters. When you remove the mask for several hours during a meal, the risks are increased, ”explains Benoit Barbeau, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at UQAM.

“And with the Delta variant, aerosol transmission should not be neglected. The “two meters” no longer holds for prolonged contact. The situation has changed: even at 3 or 4 m, contaminated aerosols can concentrate in a room and infect other people. Inside, be two meters away [sans masque] does not mean that there is no risk, ”he adds.

The vaccination passport, and after?

The vaccine passport could help prevent outbreaks, believes Professor Barbeau. But passport or not, studies on the transmissibility of the Delta variant argue in favor of maintaining current restrictions in restaurants, he believes. “Because vaccines minimize symptoms, but a vaccinated person can also sometimes be infected and transmit the virus. “

For the moment, these places are still required to ensure a distance of two meters indoors between each group of customers and to limit the number of diners per table to 10. On the terraces, however, the distance to be respected is only one meter.

François Meunier, vice-president of public and governmental affairs of the Association Restauration Québec (ARQ), rather wants the health measures to be lightened after October 15, if the epidemiological situation allows it. “We are not such problematic places,” he defends. If there are any changes to be made [avec le variant Delta], we will adjust. But our claim is that the vaccine passport will do its job and allow us to relax the measures after a certain period of time. “

According to Benoît Mâsse, epidemiologist at the University of Montreal, the current incidence of outbreaks in bars and restaurants could also simply be a reflection of the increased frequentation of these places by young adults, a less vaccinated age group and therefore more at risk of transmitting or contracting the virus. And the imposition of the vaccine passport may have already changed things.

On the other hand, the vaccination obligation will always affect only customers, recalls the Dre Marie-Christine Pomey, full professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Montreal. “Workers do not have this obligation to be vaccinated and […] promiscuity in these settings, as in others, are risk factors. I think that wearing a mask and distancing have been winning strategies so far and that we have to keep them, ”she thinks.

“It is a more than acceptable compromise” to preserve a maximum of freedoms, pleads the professor.

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