Is there any evidence that closing bars at 10pm will stem the spread of coronavirus?

It seems that every aspect of Covid-19 will be contested. Students of the history of public health politics will be having a strong sense of deja vu: the field is littered with heated debates that in essence are about numbers.



a group of people walking in front of a store: Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA


© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Related: Pubs and restaurants urge PM to review 10pm curfew in England

As someone who has worked in the field of tobacco control for some 40 years, I have witnessed many such debates. First, there was the question of how risky smoking was; then the addictive nature of tobacco. There were questions over how much safer low-tar cigarettes were. Then, of course, there was the issue of the harmfulness of passive smoking. Most recently there was the claim that e-cigarettes were 95% less harmful than “normal” cigarettes.

To my mind these tobacco control dramas have had one important thing in common: a failure of some of those involved to use numbers as a way to achieve clarity. Instead vague quantification shapes a narrative. And that is exactly what we are seeing in the evolving arguments about the coronavirus.

A recent act in this pandemic drama centres on the policy of forcing bars and restaurants in England to close at 10pm. The prime minister claimed to have based this new rule on scientific evidence that much of the spread of the virus is taking place in bars late in the evening. He says that this is at least in part due to people having consumed quite a bit of alcohol by this time and so being less likely to respect social distancing rules.

This raises an important question. Does the government have a concrete estimate of the likely number of infections, hospitalisations and deaths averted by closing bars at 10pm? If so, what is the margin of error and what is the science on which it is based? Speaking personally I cannot recall the behavioural science subgroup of Sage – of which I am a participant – ever being asked about this. On a matter of such importance I would have expected advice to be sought, because the policy depends very largely on how people behave.



a crowd of people standing in front of a store: ‘Another important number is the potential loss of income for venues’: a street in Soho, central London, on 24 September.


© Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA
‘Another important number is the potential loss of income for venues’: a street in Soho, central London, on 24 September.

If behavioural scientists had been asked to provide input into an estimate of the impact of the 10pm bar closures, one source of available evidence would be the extent to which allowing bars to remain open later at night in England and Wales back in 2005 made any difference to alcohol consumption or binge drinking. This would provide at least some evidence as to what might happen if one were to now restrict licensing hours.

The answer appears to be that the impact was minimal. This may be for reasons that are not particularly informative in the current scenario. But it points to the possibility that restricting licensing hours would have a limited

Mayor Lori Lightfoot Easing COVID Restrictions On Bars, Restaurants, Fitness Centers, Personal Services

CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago restaurants will soon be able to serve more people indoors, and bars that don’t serve food will soon be able to resume service inside under loosened COVID-19 restrictions announced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday.

The city also is easing restrictions for health and fitness clubs and for personal services.

“Being able to open further today is just one small step that we’re taking based on what we’re seeing in the data,” Lightfoot said. “It also means that difficult decisions and sacrifices that we’ve all had to make are moving us slowly but surely forward.”

The mayor said the move comes after the city has seen improving COVID-19 data over the past month, including lower rates of infection and fewer emergency room visits.

“It was because of the citywide cooperation and collaboration that Chicago never saw a huge surge in cases once we started to gently reopen,” Lightfoot said. “All the modeling predicted that we would see a surge. The question was only how large, and luckily because of all the hard work and sacrifice of so many, including individual residents, that fate didn’t come to us.”

The new rules will go into effect on Thursday when indoor capacity at restaurants will be increased from 25% to 40%, with a maximum of 50 people per room and six people per table.

Bars that serve alcohol but not food will be limited to 25% capacity indoors or a maximum of 50 people, whichever is lower. Customers can stay no longer than two hours and cannot order at the bar, only at tables. Bars that don’t serve food themselves also must partner with a restaurant or other establishment to make food available to customers at all times through delivery services.

Restaurants and bars that serve alcohol also will be able to stay open until 1:30 a.m. but must stop serving booze at 1 a.m. Liquor stores must still halt alcohol sales at 9 p.m.

Customers at bars and restaurants must continue to wear masks while seated, unless eating or drinking. That means they must wear masks whenever interacting when servers or staff, including when placing orders, when their food or drinks are delivered, and when they’re paying their checks.

“I know that t his requirement is a pain in the butt. Let’s just be blunt about it, but it’s absolutely necessary to protect you and protect other diners, and most importantly protect the workers who are coming to your table,” Lightfoot said.

In addition to loosening restrictions for bars and restaurants, capacity for health and fitness centers, personal services, and non-essential retail businesses also will increase from 25% to 40%. Maximum group sizes for

Mayor Lori Lightfoot easing Chicago restrictions on indoor bars, restaurants, fitness class sizes

Chicago bars that don’t serve food will be allowed to reopen for indoor service starting Thursday, and bars and restaurants will be allowed to serve alcohol until 1 a.m., Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Monday.



a dining room table: Chicago bars that don t serve food will be allowed to reopen for indoor service beginning Thursday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Monday.


© Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS
Chicago bars that don t serve food will be allowed to reopen for indoor service beginning Thursday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Monday.

In addition, Lightfoot said the city will now allow shaves, facials, and other personal services that previously were banned because they required the removal of face masks. The city also will increase the maximum group size for health and fitness classes and after-school programming from 10 to 15 people, officials said.

The moves are Lightfoot’s latest attempt to ease the financial burden on Chicago businesses by lifting frequently criticized restrictions. But the moves also come as the city prepares for flu season and the number of new COVID-19 cases per day hovers around 300.

Lightfoot has been eager to showcase Chicago as America’s most open big city during the pandemic, while also pledging to heed scientific advice on how much leeway to give businesses and other public places where people congregate.

Monday’s announcement keeps the city in phase four of its reopening framework, but loosens several standards.

This is the second time during the pandemic that the mayor has let bars that don’t serve food welcome patrons inside. But they will be limited to 25% of capacity under the new rules.

These establishments have drawn particular focus from the city as spots where coronavirus spreads, with Lightfoot repeatedly saying lower inhibitions as patrons drink can cause them to become lax about maintaining social distancing and wearing masks.

Bars were allowed to serve some people inside when the city moved to phase four of its reopening framework in late June when new cases were around 167 per day. But in mid-July, as virus cases spiked to around 233 per day, Lightfoot rolled that back and restricted those taverns to outdoors only.

As of Monday, Chicago’s average daily case count for the past week sat at 299, according to the city’s coronavirus dashboard website, a 28% increase over the number at which the mayor opted to close taverns to inside service and put other stricter rules in place two months ago.

With Chicago weather getting dodgier deeper into autumn, the city’s hundreds of bar operators have been clamoring to again open their doors to drinkers, arguing the distinction between those businesses that serve food and those that don’t is in many cases not relevant.

According to Lightfoot’s plan, Chicago won’t move on to phase five until there’s a coronavirus vaccine. But she left herself a lot of room to continue to “turn up the dimmer switch” on a return to normal within phase four.

Although Lightfoot is easing some rules, the city will still require patrons to wear face masks “except when actively eating or drinking.” They also will be required to order from their seats at indoor bars