The Current

4 days at work, 10 days in lockdown would restart economy amid fears of COVID-19 resurgence, says economist

10 days working from home, four days back in the office — that’s the two-week model being suggested to get the economy back on track. We speak with economics professor Eran Yashiv, from the team who designed the model, and associate professor of biology Erin Bromage about how to protect ourselves when it’s time to step back into our workplaces.

Model is 'a more steady path' to getting people back to work: professor

A new scheme suggests returning to workplaces for four days out of every two weeks. Workers would alternate weeks to reduce the number of people in the office at once. (Shutterstock)
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Researchers in Israel have formulated a new workweek model that they say would allow workers to return to offices, but help mitigate a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

The 10-4 plan entails a four-day workweek followed by 10 days in quarantine, which Eran Yashiv, a professor of economics at Tel Aviv University and London School of Economics Centre for Macroeconomics, says is contingent on COVID-19's perceived window of infectiousness.     

The model hinges on research conducted by his collaborators — professors Uri Alon and Ron Milo at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel — which estimates that a patient is not contagious to others for "three days, possibly longer" after they are infected, he said. Models created by the researchers predict that the two-week cycle could reduce the virus's reproduction number to below one. The research has not yet been peer reviewed.

According to their theory, even if someone contracted COVID-19 during their four days at work, they would be back in lockdown before they became highly infectious, and stay there potentially long enough for the symptoms to dissipate, Yashiv told The Current's Matt Galloway. Current Canadian guidelines mandate at least 14 days in self-isolation for anyone showing COVID-19 symptoms.

"This enables four normal days, in fact, more than normal — you can work longer hours during those four days that you're out, you can also do shopping," Yashiv said.

Economics professor Eran Yashiv, left, worked with professors Ron Milo and Uri Alon to develop the 10-4 model of returning to workplaces part-time. (Submitted by Eran Yashiv)

Yashiv and his collaborators intend the model to be "a more steady path" to getting people back to work. 

He says it is not meant to be "the new normal," but a stopgap that helps reduce the risk of community transmission, allowing workers to return to work "without living in this fear that 'Well, maybe there'll be a resurgence and we'll be called back to lockdown.'"

Yashiv's team used epidemiological and macroeconomic models to see what effect the scheme could have on Israel's economy. The results showed unemployment would rise up to 32 percentage points under Israel's lockdown scenarios, but only up to 21 percentage points under the 10-4 scheme, he said.

Schools in Austria are adopting a similar model when students return on Monday — with students split into two groups. One group attends class Monday to Wednesday, the second group attends Thursday to Friday, and they swap the following week.

Yashiv noted some companies, including Mastercard in New York, are also exploring the idea.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is asked by CBC's Tom Parry what happens if the COVID-19 virus never goes away. 1:51

In Canada, some provinces have begun to revive their economies and reopen schools and businesses as the number of cases fall or even off, but there is no clear indication of when the wider workforce could return to normal, and experts have warned it will be slow and gradual.

Erin Bromage, an associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, says the 10-4 plan is a "really interesting approach."

"It's working with the biology to try to come up with a feasible way to get back to work," he told Galloway.

But he warned of a risk in the plan's reliance on average timeframes for infection and symptoms showing up.

"Some people show symptoms as soon as a day after being exposed and others are much longer," he said.

"There's a risk, but you know, is there a better plan at this stage? I'm not really sure."

Plan divides population into two groups

As part of the 10-4 scheme, participants would be divided into two groups, said Yashiv. One group would work four days the first week, and the second group could work four days the next (while the first group is waiting out their 10 lockdown days).

Under the 10-4 scheme, those able to work from home during their 10 days in lockdown could still do so. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

If it's possible to work from home during the subsequent 10 lockdown days, you can, Yashiv said. 

But anyone showing signs of the virus would be removed from the scheme until they recovered, and subject to a country's existing quarantine measures, including self-isolation and physical distancing. 

Yashiv said the plan would help stimulate consumer spending, as "firms can plan their production patterns, and households can plan their consumption patterns if they know this is a regular, predictable schedule."

He added that the 10-4 scheme can be applied at any level, from a business to an entire country.

If used at a company level, management or human resources can designate people "according to the jobs they carry out, their function in the firm or the institution, and try to get a balance over the two different groups," he said.

If applied across an entire city or even country, the two groups could be divided by household, and designated by a colour scheme, he said. Police checks for designated colour IDs could make sure no one was breaking lockdown on a week their colour group was meant to be indoors, Yashiv added.

Some countries are looking at using so-called immunity passports as a way to help end COVID-19 lockdowns. 1:53

Some experts have suggested people who recover from the virus could be given "immunity passports" allowing them to leave lockdown, but there are concerns that not enough is known about the antibodies and the extent of protection.

Yashiv pointed out that the 10-4 scheme is "not predicated on testing people," or making distinctions between the two broad groups.

He acknowledged that enforcing lockdown would be key to the plan's success, but pointed to countries that have already been through weeks of strict enforcement as examples of public willingness to co-operate.

"I agree that it may be tempting to go out once you are partially released from lockdown, but the whole thing should be compared to complete lockdown — that's the alternative that we are comparing to," he told Galloway.

"You need that level of control, not more strict, but obviously not more lax than that." 


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Joana Draghici.

Corrections

  • In a previous version of this story, Eran Yashiv said Motorola was exploring the 10-4 scheme. In fact, Mastercard is.
    May 15, 2020 11:39 AM ET

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