Researchers suggest 2-day workweek to keep economy afloat, stymie virus spread

Researchers suggest 2-day workweek to keep economy afloat, stymie virus spread

Weizmann Institute researchers develop epidemiological model that predicts cyclical lockdown would more slowly eradicate virus, but keep key economical sectors functioning

Luke Tress is a video journalist and tech reporter for the Times of Israel

A man walks on Jaffa street in downtown Jerusalem, March 28, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
A man walks on Jaffa street in downtown Jerusalem, March 28, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Israeli researchers suggested keeping the economy on life support during the coronavirus pandemic by switching to an intermittent work schedule.

A weekly schedule of two days of work, followed by five days of lockdown, would stymie the spread of the virus while allowing the economy to continue to function, the researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science said.

Such a schedule would balance the economy and containment, and is more sustainable than a complete economic lockdown, but it would take longer to fully eradicate the virus.

Each infected person would likely pass the virus on, on average, to fewer than one other person by reducing their exposure to other people, causing the virus to eventually burn itself out. The average coronavirus carrier currently infects two or more other people without a lockdown, the researchers said.

The strategy would not lead to herd immunity, which would cause a much larger number of deaths by infecting a broad swath of the population.

A four-day workweek, followed by a ten-day lockdown, would be even more effective because most people appear to be infectious for about three or four days, starting three or four days after exposure. People infected at work would then become less infectious during the lockdown.

People who developed symptoms, and were therefore more infectious, would remain at home during the next work cycle.

Medical staff working at the new COVID-19 unit at the Shaarei Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, March 31, 2020. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)

Under such a schedule, the entire population would be released from lockdown at the same time, but maintain strict hygiene. Quarantined people and those in high-risk groups would remain under lockdown the entire time.

Children would be allowed to go to school and daycare on “work” days.

On days off from work, public spaces would be disinfected, and health authorities could carry out testing and contact tracing to further reduce the spread of the virus.

Following such a schedule would allow the economy to continue at 40 percent capacity until better treatments or a vaccine was developed.

Key economic sectors could be sustained, and it would psychologically benefit people who would otherwise be unemployed. It would lessen outright firing of employees and reduce uncertainty.

A cyclic strategy could work in regions without sufficient testing capabilities, if the schedule was maintained, the researchers said.

Such a plan would be relatively low risk, since if it did not work authorities could return to a full lockdown or other containment strategies.

An empty Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv on March 30, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The plan is based on a mathematical epidemiological model developed by Weizmann Institute researchers Prof. Uri Alon, a systems biologist, Omer Karin and Yael Korem-Kohanim, and computer engineer Boaz Dudovich of the tech company Applied Materials.

The coronavirus pandemic has largely shuttered Israel’s economy, with over a million Israelis seeking jobless benefits for the first time in the state’s history.

Over 840,000 people registered for unemployment in March. Some 160,000 were already unemployed, leading to a total of 1,004,316 as of Wednesday.

The staggering figure amounts to 24.1% of Israel’s workforce. Only a month ago, before the coronavirus outbreak, unemployment in Israel was at a record low of under 4%.

Israel has unveiled a NIS 80 billion ($22.5 billion) economic rescue plan to help the economy survive the pandemic.

The virus has infected over 6,000 Israelis, and killed 26.

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