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  • Chris Anderson: So our first speaker gave a TED Talk at TEDGlobal

  • I think seven years ago.

  • His name is Professor Uri Alon,

  • at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

  • Now, he and his colleagues there have come up with a powerful idea

  • that addresses this key question:

  • How on earth do we get back to work

  • without creating a second surge of the infection?

  • Uri Alon, welcome to TED.

  • Uri Alon: Thank you. Nice to be here again.

  • CA: It's great to see you again.

  • So, I guess the key to your idea

  • is this obsession with the reproduction number R, R-naught.

  • If that number is less than one,

  • then fewer than one person is infected by a typical person,

  • and eventually, the epidemic fades away.

  • People are worried that as we come back to work,

  • R will shoot up above one again.

  • You have a suggestion for how we might avoid that.

  • What is that suggestion?

  • UA: Exactly.

  • So, we are suggesting a strategy

  • that's based on a weak spot based on the biology of the virus,

  • which is a cycle of work and lockdown.

  • It exploits the vulnerability of the virus in that, when a person gets infected,

  • they're not infectious for about three days.

  • So you don't infect others for the first three days,

  • and after another two days, on average, you get symptoms.

  • So we're proposing a strategy which is four days of work

  • and then 10 days of lockdown,

  • and the next two weeks, again: four days of work, 10 days of lockdown.

  • And that way, if a person gets infected at work,

  • they reach their peak infectiousness during lockdown, and that way,

  • they avoid infecting many others.

  • This restricts the viral transmission.

  • Also, just working four days out of two weeks

  • restricts the amount of time the virus gets to see many other people,

  • and that's a very powerful effect.

  • So everybody works on the same four days,

  • kids go to school on the same four days,

  • with all the measures of social distancing and masks, etc,

  • and then there's a lockdown period.

  • CA: So if you take the worst-case scenario,

  • where you come to work on a Monday morning at the start of your four days,

  • and you're infected on the subway, say, on the way to work,

  • the theory here is that even by the end of that four days,

  • you're not really starting to infect your coworkers?

  • UA: That's correct.

  • So you're infected on the subway,

  • and so for the first three days or so, you're in your latent period,

  • you don't infect your coworkers,

  • you reach your peak infectiousness at home,

  • there will be secondary infections at home,

  • and people with symptoms can self-quarantine,

  • and over the long run, you have a reproduction number less than one,

  • so the epidemic, if you continue these cycles,

  • will go away.

  • CA: I mean, is it frustrating

  • at the thought that people are going to say,

  • "Wait -- I don't want to infect people at home,

  • I'd rather infect people at work than at home."

  • What's the response to that?

  • UA: Yes, absolutely.

  • So we have to consider the alternatives.

  • If you open up the economy and there's a second wave,

  • you'll get all those infections anyway during the lockdown that happens,

  • along with the devastating effects on the economy, etc.

  • And so, in the long run,

  • if you do a cyclic strategy like this

  • but with a reproduction number that's less than one,

  • you avoid, at least with these mathematical models and considerations,

  • the much larger number of infections you'd get if there's a second wave.

  • CA: Right. You're serving the needs of your family by -- sorry, go on.

  • UA: Even people who are infected don't infect everyone at home.

  • The attack rates are 10 to 30 percent, according to several studies.

  • CA: Right.

  • But the hope is that you're serving the needs of your family

  • by engaging in a strategy where very few of your fellow workers

  • are going to be infectious anyway,

  • so that's the plan, but um --

  • UA: That's right.

  • CA: Tell me this, though -- because four days out of 14,

  • someone's going to say, "Well, great idea,

  • but that implies, like, a 70 percent loss of productivity

  • in the economy,

  • so that can't possibly work."

  • I think you think that the productivity loss

  • need not be anything like that much.

  • UA: That's right,

  • and of course, most people don't work weekends,

  • so it's four days out of the 10 work days in the two weeks,

  • and once you have a predictable schedule

  • of four days at work,

  • you can work longer hours,

  • you can design shifts and get higher productivity

  • by prioritizing in those four days

  • much more than 40 percent of the workdays.

  • CA: Yes, so talk through how that could work.

  • I mean, let's imagine, first of all, manufacturing,

  • which is currently shut down.

  • Is the implication here that a manufacturer could set up

  • two, possibly even three, shifts of four days,

  • maybe 35 hours or something of work over those four days

  • and still get a lot of productivity,

  • basically, having the lines almost running continuously that way?

  • UA: Exactly.

  • So this is a staggered version of this idea,

  • where you take the population, divide it into two groups or three groups.

  • Let's say one group works four days and then 10 days of lockdown.

  • Then the other group kicks in.

  • This idea was proposed by colleagues at Bar-Ilan University.

  • Then you get an added benefit that during workdays there's less density.

  • If there's two groups,

  • there's half the density and less transmission.

  • And you can keep production lines working almost continuously like that

  • using this staggered idea.

  • CA: And applying it to thinking about offices coming back --

  • I mean, it seems to me that, as we've already seen,

  • there's a lot of productivity that can happen when you're at home,

  • so you could picture on this idea of people doing one set of things

  • during the four days when they're, say, back at the office,

  • doing the exposure to each other, sparking off each other,

  • the discussions, the brainstorming, all that good stuff,

  • while at home, they're then doing all the things

  • that we've been doing the last few weeks,

  • kind of working solo.

  • How much have you thought about how that,

  • whether it's possible, effectively, to divide work into different types

  • and actually use a strategy like this

  • to maintain almost full or even better productivity?

  • UA: I agree -- for many sectors, people work at home very effectively,

  • and we've heard from several industries

  • that productivity actually went up during lockdown

  • and people working at home.

  • So if you have a schedule, a [cyclic exit strategy]

  • you can restrict the amount,

  • or you can plan the work where you need to be together

  • in a very effective way

  • with avoiding a lot of time lost,

  • if the person's work can be more effective at home

  • and more effective at work and get high productivity.

  • I should say that some sectors really need to adjust,

  • like hotels, tourism, dining.

  • In several industries, this will require more thought and adjusting.

  • But other industries are almost built for ideas like this.

  • Maybe it's even something you can consider after the epidemic,

  • because productivity can be at least as high.

  • CA: I mean, I read this and I started thinking about our own organization, TED,

  • and how, in many ways, you could argue that could work really well.

  • I mean, for one thing,

  • there's this question about extroverts and introverts.

  • Some introverts, if they were honest,

  • might say that this pandemic has been manna from heaven for them.

  • They've found work less stressful.

  • They've been able to focus and so forth.

  • With this sort of four days on, four days off type strategy,

  • perhaps you can imagine a work world

  • that's optimized for both introverts and extroverts?

  • UA: Absolutely.

  • I mean, I feel it also.

  • Me and my partner, with different personalities,

  • we both teach in universities,

  • and teaching through this

  • has [helped me] become productive in certain ways.

  • So I agree completely,

  • and I think harnessing the creativity of people at workplaces,

  • we're only at the beginning of what these kinds of mixtures can offer.

  • CA: But for people who are on the front line,

  • again, if you're delivering goods and so forth

  • and you can't do that virtually,

  • is there any thought about

  • how a four days on and then isolation strategy,

  • how that off time could be used

  • to nonetheless contribute to that person's work

  • through some form of training?

  • Or is it more just that people would work very intensely during four days,

  • and maybe people still aren't quite earning their full pay in this scenario,

  • but it's better than complete lockdown,

  • and it's better than going back to work and seeing another surge?

  • UA: That's right.

  • So on a society level,

  • it's better than opening up and seeing another surge,

  • which would require complete lockdown.

  • For people like hospital shifts,

  • some hospitals adopted this kind of program

  • so we can protect shifts and avoid mixing.

  • It also creates a lot of simplicity and clarity.

  • So you understand when you're working,

  • and you have some confidence because this is based on scientific modeling

  • about the effectiveness of this plan.

  • It's also equitable in the sense that everybody gets to go to work,

  • not only certain sectors,

  • it's transparent, etc.

  • [Cross talk]

  • CA: And this is something that is best implemented

  • by individual companies?

  • Or is it actually much better implemented a city at a time

  • or even a nation at a time?

  • UA: We think it can work [in levels].

  • So at certain companies, it's very natural to adopt,

  • or at hospitals, schools, etc.

  • It can also work at the level of a town or a region,

  • and then we would advise trying it out for something like a month,

  • seeing whether cases rise.

  • In that case, you can dial down the number of workdays.

  • Or, if cases are declining quickly, you can add workdays

  • and therefore adapt to the climate and the location where a person is.

  • So it's quite adaptable.

  • CA: But by aligning work schedules with schools, for example,

  • that suddenly allows parents to go back to work

  • on the days that their kids are at school, and you'd have to try --

  • UA: Absolutely.

  • CA: I mean, is the best instantiation of this

  • that countries literally divide households

  • into different A and B categories, or something like that,

  • so that that kind of alignment could happen?

  • UA: Exactly.

  • So you can align different households, Group A and Group B,

  • and then the children go to school, the parents go to work

  • in a synchronized way,

  • and the other group, let's say, the alternating weeks.

  • A certain amount of people need to work all the time.

  • Maybe teachers are, like, essential workers and need to work throughout.

  • Just like during lockdown situations,

  • a certain fraction of the population still works throughout.

  • But a region that does this should be protected, in a sense,

  • because it has a replication number of less than one,

  • so imported infections also can't spread very much.

  • CA: And here is the aforementioned David Biello. David.

  • David Biello: Yes. Hello, everybody.

  • Uri, as you can imagine, there are lot of questions

  • from the audience,

  • and we have a first one

  • kind of about those workers who have been marked as essential.

  • Can you comment on how this would impact the health care professionals and others

  • who may not have time or the flexibility to quarantine

  • in the way you suggest.

  • UA: That's great.

  • I want to say that there's essential workers,

  • there's people with low income, that just can't adhere to lockdown

  • because they have to make a living.

  • And studies show that mobility [among] people in the low-income sectors

  • is larger during lockdown.

  • And also, in developing countries, people just have to go out of the house.

  • You can't enforce lockdown.

  • So this four-10 kind of strategy can actually make lockdown easier to bear