Is it safe to dine at a restaurant? Should I venture to the hairdresser? Claudia Calleja spoke to pathology professor Chris Barbara about the risks of going places during the coronavirus pandemic.

As the health authorities slowly start easing restrictions put in place to control the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, many might be wondering how safe it is to step beyond their front door.

Professor Chris Barbara explains that, no matter where you go, certain unbendable rules must apply. These include maintaining social distancing, washing hands regularly, protecting the vulnerable and staying home if you are feeling unwell. 

Inviting people home – indoors

Medium to high risk: 4/5

Meeting people who live outside your household comes with risks – you never know if they are carrying the virus.

“Exposing yourself to people, from outside your household, for more than 15 minutes increases risks. Even if you wear masks and maintain social distancing, your guests will be sitting on your chairs and contaminating surfaces,” Barbara says. 

Inviting people home – outdoors

Medium risk: 3/5

This is less risky than having people inside the house due to air circulation. But, otherwise, the same applies as having guests inside.

“Even if you’re sitting in a garden or terrace, the guests are still making use of your things. You need to take all precautions and disinfect anything they touch,” he says.

Visiting the elderly

High risk: 5/5

While it is okay to go and see elderly relatives from afar, by staying outside their home and talking to them from below the balcony for example, entering their home increases the risk of you contaminating their home.

“Any risk of infecting vulnerable people is high risk,” Barbara says.

Attending Holy Mass

Medium risk: 3/5

Church services are suspended for now. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaChurch services are suspended for now. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

If people wear a mask and stay two metres apart, possibly sitting alternately on benches not to have anyone directly in front or behind them, the risk of contracting the virus from others is low.

“However, people can still contaminate benches so they would have to be disinfected after every ceremony,” he says adding that Holy Communion could spread the virus if the priest happens to be contaminated. 

“Very special precautions need to be enforced before the practice of receiving Communion can start again.”

Going to the beach

Medium to low risk: 2/5

Since going the beach is an outdoor outing, the risk is low.

“It is important to maintain physical distance from others and keep your shoes on till you arrive at your spot,” Barbara says, adding that research suggests that the salinity of the sea water makes the virus more vulnerable.

But, he says, there is no guarantee that your spot was not contaminated by someone who was there before you. 

Grocery shopping

Low risk: 1/5

Protect yourself properly when grocery shopping, and you'll be fine. Photo: Chris Sant FournierProtect yourself properly when grocery shopping, and you'll be fine. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

If done properly the risks are low. You must wear a mask, wash your hands before and after, make a list and go straight to the items you need without touching other items unnecessarily.

Once you are done, clean your hands with an alcohol rub before entering the car and wash your hands on getting home. Wipe down fridge items and leave the others untouched for four days.

Working at the office

Medium risk: 3/5

Spending a day in a confined space with others comes with risks. Colleagues should maintain distancing, wear a mask, avoid sharing phones and stationery, wipe down anything they touch, wear gloves when handling shared documents, sanitise areas and wash hands regularly, not sit opposite each other, and ensure rules are observed in the staff room where they are more likely to relax.

“It’s important to avoid crowded spaces by, for example, splitting the workforce into teams that attend the office in shifts,” Barbara says.

Dining at a restaurant – indoors

High risk: 5/5

“Going to a restaurant is more risky than inviting people home since there are more people – other patrons and staff.

“And these could be carrying the virus even if they are asymptomatic,” Barbara says.

If people choose to dine at a restaurant it is vital to observe the guidelines issued by the health authorities.

Dining at a restaurant – outdoors

Medium to high risk: 4/5

“Dining outdoors is less risky that staying indoors at a restaurant but, again, exposing yourself to people from outside your household comes with a certain degree of risks since surfaces can be contaminated.”

Chairs stacked at closed eateries in Senglea. Photo: Matthew MirabelliChairs stacked at closed eateries in Senglea. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Going to the hairdresser

Moderate risk: 3/5

“You cannot go to a hairdresser for less than 15 minutes, which brings an amount of risk as you are exposed to other people. If hairdryers are used, the risk becomes higher, since the air – and the virus – is blown around,” Barbara says.

It’s important for hairdressers and their clients to observe the guidelines issued. These include wearing masks, not allowing crowding in salons and observing high sanitising practices.

Going to the playground

High risk: 5/5

Playgrounds are best avoided for now. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaPlaygrounds are best avoided for now. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

“It is impossible to stop children from touching their faces and contaminating surfaces,” he says.

For this reason, it is best to avoid any place where children might mingle at this stage. In any case, playgrounds are still closed to the public.

A walk in the countryside

Low risk: 1/5

Since the countryside and parks are open air, if people maintain social distancing, a walk in a park or the countryside should be relatively low risk.

Going to hospital

Medium to low risk: 2/5

Mater Dei Hospital is investing a lot in making it a safe place. If people maintain distancing, follow the instructions given and ensure they turn up at the time instructed for appointments, it is safe.

“The risk of not turning up might be far more serious as certain untreated conditions could be fatal.”

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us