India is currently in the midst of a 21-day lockdown, that began on March 25, to contain the spread of the coronavirus. In India, GDP growth is already at a decadal low and any further dent in economic output will bring more pain to workers who have seen their wages erode in recent times. The aftershock of the sudden lockdown is already visible. But one of the dangers, as we know, of trying to jump back into full employment is that the virus, hidden in asymptomatic carriers, can start to spread once again.
Prof. Uri Alon and his graduate students Omer Karin and Yael Korem-Kohanim, together with senior engineer Boaz Dudovich of Applied Materials, have suggested a model based on an epidemiological algorithm they developed. A policy based on this model would effectively suppress the coronavirus and at the same time, allows sustainable, albeit reduced, economic activity. The model that the scientists developed is based on intermittent lockdown: five days of lockdown and two days of work every week. In this way, the virus replication number, i.e., the number of people infected by each infectious person, drops below one – the magic number that causes the epidemic to decline.
A four-day work/ten-day lockdown strategy is even better, as those who become infected at work but are asymptomatic would stop being infectious at home. Prof. Alon suggests that after several such work/home cycles, the number of people carrying the virus coulddrop dramatically. The epidemic would, at that pointbe contained until sufficient testing, an effective treatment or a vaccine is developed, removing the need for a lockdown.
Intermittent lockdown may be the only viable option for countries that can’t deploy sufficient testing for large parts of the population. The strategy couldenablemillions to be employed, andsustain key economic sectors in the process. For workers, holding a 40% position rather than collecting unemployment would be a boon both mentally and financially.
Fixed workdays would allow workers and managers to plan, and companies to reach a sustainable level of production. “Our main intent,” says Prof. Alon, “is to open up the discussion on lockdown and point out that a well-designed, smart lockdown strategy can suppress the epidemic and sustain the economy.”