Lockdown design: Which features of lockdowns are most important to Covid-19 experts?

Photo: Luke Pilkinton-Ching | University of Otago Wellington

Researchers from the University of Otago used 1000minds to find out how Covid-19 experts feel about the relative importance of possible lockdown features in terms of how the features are experienced (e.g. their inconvenience or unpleasantness), independently of their effectiveness at controlling the pandemic.

As for many countries around the world, lockdowns were a central plank of New Zealand’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Reducing the disease’s spread depended crucially on people’s compliance with lockdowns, which depended on their design. Policy-makers have a fair amount of discretion over which features to include and how stringent to make them: e.g. travel restrictions and requirements to work or study from home, etc. Hence, it’s useful for policy-makers to understand how people feel about the various ways that a lockdown can be configured.

A 1000minds conjoint analysis survey, also known as a discrete choice experiment (DCE), involving 16 Covid-19 experts was run. Experts were included instead of members of the general public because the wide-spread uncertainty and limited knowledge about lockdown design meant that experts were better placed to evaluate lockdown features. The study was intended to serve as a pilot for a larger-scale study in the future.

The conjoint analysis survey revealed that the least desirable – or, to put it another way, the most inconvenient or unpleasant – lockdown feature was ‘travel restrictions’ (with a mean weight of 24.6%), followed by ‘total cost of a vaccination (out-of-pocket or from taxes)’ (22.1%), ‘school closures’ (19.4%), ‘work from home’ (17.9%), ‘required to stay at home’ (9.6%) and ‘required to wear masks in public’ (6.5%).

Thus, the experts care most about not being able to travel within NZ or overseas during a lockdown; and they care the least about having to wear masks in public. The weights (in parentheses above) reveal that the travel-restrictions feature is almost four times (i.e. 24.6%/6.5%) more important than the mask-requirement feature. School closures and being made to work from home are also relatively undesirable features (though not as undesirable as travel restrictions). On the other hand, being required to stay home is relatively acceptable (not much worse than being required to wear masks in public).

The researchers concluded, “these results could be used by policy-makers to design lockdowns for implementation that are both effective in public health terms and most likely to be complied with. Clearly, the right combination of these two considerations – public health effectiveness and compliance – is very important for designing lockdowns that actually work (reduce Covid-19 transmission).”

A larger-scale study involving the general public could be conducted in the future, given that Covid-19 and its variants or another virus altogether remain a significant threat. The research methodology could be easily adapted for use in other countries too.

Want to know more?

More information about the study is available in the following peer-reviewed article, which also featured in a University of Otago press release and Otago Daily Times news article.

Other research about 1000minds and the Covid-19 pandemic can be found here.