Study Suggests An ‘Odds & Evens’ Approach To Relaxing Coronavirus Lockdown Measures

BRISBANE, Australia — Your house number may become a whole lot more important in the coming weeks. That’s because, according to a new study, it could be your key to the outside world as society begins reopening from the coronavirus quarantine.

What’s the best way to ease lockdown and social distancing restrictions while still ensuring everyone’s safety? It’s a tough question to answer, but researchers from Queensland University of Technology have a suggestion you probably hadn’t considered. They recommend that governments utilize an alternating “odds and evens” strategy when it comes to allowing citizens out of their homes for work and other activities. People whose addresses feature an even number would be allowed outside one day, odd numbered residences would be allowed outside the next, and so on.

“Governments in Australia and elsewhere are seeking to balance competing priorities. Social distancing has certainly been proven to reduce the rate of transmission of COVID-19 but has had a negative impact on the economy and created other health issues,” says Professor Adrian Barnett, a statistician with QUT’s School of Public Health and Social Work, in a university release. “A major problem with relaxing restrictions too quickly is the limited evidence on how this will affect transmission of the virus and no-one wants to see another wave of infection and deaths which would lead to a return to lockdown.”

“We propose an interim solution in which allowing people to return to a less-restricted life should be based on odd or even house numbers. For example, people in odd numbered houses have relaxed restrictions on odd days in the month (1st, 3rd, etc) and people in even number houses on even days (2nd, 4th, etc),” he explains.

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Barnett and his team believe that this approach will greatly reduce the risk of a second major wave of infections, while simultaneously providing valuable data regarding which restrictions need to be re-evaluated.

Similar solutions have worked for traffic pollution and congestion problems, using odd and even car license plate numbers. Many cities, such as Rome, Paris, and Mexico City have had success with this strategy.

“As for COVID-19, we are seeing similar national policies such as in Colombia where restrictions have been implemented by gender, with men allowed out some days and women on others, and in Bolivia, Honduras and Panama they are using national ID numbers to apply restrictions,” he adds. “An advantage to the odds-and-evens approach is that it creates multiple randomized experiments that could be used to study how the virus spreads, because on every day we have similar groups of people who are exposed and not, creating an ideal natural experiment.”

This way, it would also be much easier to see a new breakout of infections coming. There would be a clear pattern of specific houses reporting coronavirus symptoms. For governments considering this approach, Barnett says an integral element is deciding just how long restrictions should be relaxed for each group. It doesn’t have to necessarily be days, it could be weeks as well.

“We have looked at it being implemented using alternate days, but governments might choose a different duration, such as by week which will have different health and economic implications. It could also start on a modest base and evolve over time,” he concludes. “There will also be challenges in enforcing a policy based on house number and there will always be people who choose not to obey the rules. Despite the potential problems, this approach partially re-starts the economy for a lower risk and provides valuable experimental data, so it has multiple benefits compared with relaxing restrictions en masse.”

The study is published in the British Medical Journal.

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