Britain’s hotly-contested 10pm curfew will not curb the spread of coronavirus unless pubs enforce staggered leaving times, a respiratory virologist has warned.
Dr Julian Tang, from the University of Leicester, urged ministers to consider making pubs, restaurants and bars adopt a rota system where tables leave at different times, to avoid tougher restrictions.
This, he argued, would stop drunken crowds descending on supermarkets and off-licenses at the same time, in a quest to pick-up alcohol to carry on drinking late into the night.
Dr Tang also suggested revellers in cities should do their bit by nominating a designated driver who, where possible, would take them home after a night out so they could avoid cramming onto public transport.
Packed trains and buses provide the ideal environment for the coronavirus to spread due to the proximity of passengers and fact there is little ventilation of the air surrounding them. Masks can help to protect those on-board, but may not stop all the virus particles in the air from getting through.
‘That’s anti-curfew rebellion,’ he told MailOnline, describing the hordes packing the streets after it came into force this weekend. ‘If people don’t listen to this the Government is going to put everyone into lockdown again.
‘It’s the young people that will suffer the most, it’s the service jobs that are going to go first. People are being a bit short-sighted.’
Pub industry chiefs have blasted the 10pm curfew as ‘shambolic’, after clips showed eager drinkers packing supermarkets to the rafters as they stocked up on wine, beer and spirits before continuing their night out on the street.
Hundreds took to the curbside in Liverpool for a street party after their local boozers pulled down the shutters. Dozens more revellers were seen dancing the night away in Manchester, York and other cities across the UK.
LONDON, OXFORD STREET: Revellers were seen piling onto the tube on Saturday with scant regard for social distancing after the 10pm curfew came into force
BRISTOL: When pub’s pulled the shutters down in the city hundreds were seen gathering together un-masked along its main streets on Saturday
PORTSMOUTH: Supermarkets were crowded across the country after the 10pm curfew, including this Tesco Express store on Saturday
Dr Julian Tang, from the University of Leicester, has urged pubs to consider bringing in staggered leaving times so that the Government doesn’t have to bring in further measures
Single superspreader is blamed for Swansea University outbreak
Liverpool John Moores University’s campus accommodation halls yesterday
A coronavirus-infected superspreader who attended a house party has been blamed for all 32 Covid-19 cases at Swansea University as infections sweep 47 campuses nation-wide.
The Welsh university said the person ‘came from outside the area’ and attended a ‘particular party’ sparking the outbreak.
Six people have so far been handed warnings for breaching the country-wide rules – which include a six-person limit on gatherings – at Swansea as rave-deprived students were warned they could be kicked off their courses if caught.
Even so, no formal quarantine measures in student halls – such as those seen in Manchester and Glasgow – have been introduced as the cases have been linked to private accommodation blocks and not the university’s campus.
Liverpool John Moores University’s campus has also remained quarantine-free, despite footage of a huge booze-fuelled rave in an accommodation hall surfacing today.
A group of students – some standing on furniture – were seen crowding together inside the university’s Cambridge Court halls as they danced and sang along to Dizzee Rascal song Bonkers.
The footage emerged despite coronavirus causing havoc at universities across the country.
Up to 4,000 students across Britain are now self-isolating for a fortnight after more than 500 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed across at least 47 universities.
Speaking to MailOnline, Dr Tang said a designated driver would further take the pressure off public transport, and reduce the risk of the virus being spread.
The individual could be someone at the pub with the group who has opted to avoid alcohol, or someone who could come and collect them afterwards.
Addressing the Government, he said they needed to explain the ‘longer term benefits’ of the curfew to the population.
‘The curfew is just an indicator (of the situation in the country),’ he said.
‘What the spirit of the curfew should be is that it’s designed to reduce contact between people to reduce the spread of the virus, but if people don’t follow it and abuse it, it’s not going to work.’
‘If people get used to it and respect it then it may start to work.’
He added that there would be a two to three week lag between when it was introduced, on September 24, and a fall in the daily number of coronavirus cases – providing it had an impact.
Railing against pundits slamming the curfew for ‘lack of evidence’ over whether it would work, he said as it hasn’t been tried before in the UK there is ‘no evidence’ of whether it will or will not work. This will only become available in the coming weeks.
The curfew – which is the same across the whole of the UK – aims to reduce contact between people and the risk of a second lockdown, by curbing transmission of coronavirus.
But Britain’s have dismissed the rule and mocked officials, arguing the virus does not go to sleep after 10pm.
Conservative MPs have labelled it ‘idiotic’ and a ‘sick experiment’ to ‘incubate a second wave’, while more than 100 pubs including Wetherspoons and Greene King urged the Government to rethink its hospitality curbs.
Other scientists have, however, argued that officials are missing the point because the curfew is trying to ensure people do not get too drunk and give up on wearing masks or sticking to other guidelines.
Dr Jennifer Cole, a biological anthropologist at Royal Holloway University, argued that one of the biggest influences over people spreading the virus, and ignoring social distancing, was alcohol.
‘The more drunk you are, the less inhibited and less risk-averse you are,’ she said. ‘Closing bars and restaurants at 10pm simply keeps people more sober. It gives them plenty of time for a meal, or a quick drink with friends after work, but means they are likely to be sober enough to put on a face covering on the train or bus home.’
But some critics pointed out it may only lead to people quitting hospitality venues in large groups and cramming together, ideal conditions for the virus to spread.
Dr Michael Head, a global health expert at Southampton University, warned when the measures came into force he expected them to have ‘little or no impact’ on the spread of the virus.
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, said it was ‘doubtful’ the measure would be enough to prevent a second wave and said ministers should be focusing on how to protect the most vulnerable citizens.
Others warned it will just lead to people heading home to drink together, where Government data shows the virus is most likely to spread.
Data from NHS Test and Trace shows people are most commonly exposed to the virus by another member of their household, at 59 per cent, followed by visiting the household of someone who has tested positive, at 13 per cent.
If the UK’s outbreak continues to surge, the Government and local authorities may be forced to take additional measures to curb its spread.
Households have already been banned from mixing together across the North East to limit the spread, with warnings this measure may be imposed on London as early as next week if the transmission of the virus does not stop.
Britain recorded another landmark surge in coronavirus cases yesterday, when it recorded its highest daily increase yet at 7,143 new infections.
Professor Robert Dingwall, a sociologist at Nottingham Trent University, disagreed with Dr Tang’s suggestions, telling MailOnline people do not need ‘more elaborate rules’.
‘We should just realise that the curfew was a bad idea and scrap it, leaving people to stagger their own departure times.
‘The consequences we have seen would have been entirely predictable to anyone who remembered Scottish pubs before 1976 – I was a PhD student in Aberdeen.
‘They closed at 10pm, we spilled out onto the streets with armfuls of beer cans and whisky bottles and carried on partying, although more usually in someone’s flat than on the street – Scottish streets are a bit cold in the winter!
‘If anything, then, the curfew is probably amplifying household transmission.’
Hospitality industry bodies lined up to blast the 10pm curfew after revellers were seen swarming to supermarkets and standing on street corners.
Emma McClarking, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said the weekend curfew had led to customers ‘leaving venues and filling the streets en masse’.
‘We would like to see the hard 10pm reviewed to allow us flexibility on doors closing time and allow customers to stagger their exits,’ she said.
‘Having not been consulted by the Government on the announcement last week, we do stand ready to work with them to find the safest and most practical ways to tackle coronavirus while crucially keeping our businesses and the hundreds of thousands of jobs they provide alive.’
Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has called for a 9pm watershed on alcohol sales to ensure the curfew has its intended effect after the North West faced many house parties over the weekend.
‘My gut feeling is that this curfew is doing more harm than good,’ he told BBC Radio 4 on Monday. ‘It creates an incentive for people to gather in the street or more probably to gather in the home.’
Boris Johnson is set to address the nation at 5pm on the current state of coronavirus in the UK.
The Department for Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.
Should there be a 10pm lockdown? The verdict from scientists
Top scientists today cast doubt over Boris Johnson’s 10pm curfew on pubs, bars and restaurants to control coronavirus, warning the drastic move is unlikely to curb the spread of the disease.
One epidemiologist argued coronavirus ‘doesn’t understand the clock’, questioning why ministers have ordered all hospitality businesses to shut at that time.
And other infectious disease experts fear the curfew will be ineffective because it runs the risk of ‘compressing activity’, with all people leaving at the same time making areas busier.
Others argued it would simply be better to close all hospitality venues, meaning the spread of the virus would be curbed.
Why there should NOT be a 10pm curfew
- It’s better to shut all bars, pubs and restaurants to stop the virus
Dr Michael Head, from the University of Southamptom, said closing all hospitality venues would be better as it would stop people going out, curbing the spread of the virus completely.
‘This would ensure that public health is prioritised, and business and staff are in a stronger economic position when they are allowed to resume,’ he said.
- It won’t prevent a second wave
Paul Hunter, infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, said the measure should be abandoned as it will not prevent a second wave.
Cases are already rising quickly in the UK – which announced a record daily rise in cases to 7,146 yesterday – meaning efforts should instead be focused on the more vulnerable, he said.
- Everyone will leave pubs, bars and restaurants at the same time
Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the school of medicine at the University of Leeds, joined calls for the measure to be abandoned as it will encourage people to gather in ‘large numbers’ when they quit hospitality venues at the same time.
He warned this could ‘erode compliance’ with other measures such as wearing face coverings and maintaining good hand hygiene.
It is also feared that when people crowd together with scant regard for social distancing, this increases the risk that the virus will spread if one of them is infected.
Why there SHOULD be a 10pm curfew
- Reduces alcohol consumption, and hence social distancing compliance
Other scientists have, however, praised the 10pm curfew as it will limit the consumption of alcohol – which has been labelled one of the biggest enemies of social distancing.
‘The more drunk you are, the less inhibited and less risk-averse you are,’ said Dr Jennifer Cole, from Royal Holloway University. ‘Closing bars and restaurants at 10pm… means people are likely to be sober enough to put on a face-covering on the train or bus home, and be careful around elderly relatives when they get home.’
Dr Rachel McCloy, from the University of Reading, said the measure simplified the rules – making them easier to follow for all.
- It will reduce the spread of the virus?
Scientists are divided over this much touted benefit, due to the lack of data.
They expect to see a drop in the number of daily cases the UK is reporting within the next two to three weeks after it was imposed on 24 September, should it have had an impact.
If it does not, it’s likely the Government may impose tougher measures.