Office attendance has slumped following Melbourne’s fourth lockdown, prompting calls to scrap mandatory mask restrictions to entice people back to work.
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Worker attendance in Melbourne CBD offices slumped to 23 per cent during the fourth lockdown, according to new data, prompting calls to scrap masks in offices to encourage people back into the city.
Workers have been slow to return to the office after the latest lockdown in Melbourne, discouraged by colder weather and workplace capacity limits.
But Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry boss Paul Guerra said mask-wearing in the office should be scrapped to bolster worker numbers and to help rejuvenate the city’s retail, dining and beauty businesses.
“We’re a long way from where we were five weeks ago (before lockdown),” he said.
“Quite simply, get masks off inside offices and, as leaders, encourage people to come back in, even for a couple of days a week, and then we can start rediscovering what we love about Melbourne.”
People movement data from oOh!media, which tracked visitations to business hubs, showed that before Victoria’s fourth lockdown in late May, office hubs had reached 75 per cent of 2019 levels.
During the second week of lockdown, however, offices’ capacity fell to 23 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Since lockdown ended, numbers in Victorian office hubs have bounced back to 41 per cent compared to 2019.
Mr Guerra said QR codes and office security passes helped track people in case contact tracing was needed.
“Let’s have some common sense here, once you’re in your office and QR coded in, you can take your mask off.’’
Mr Guerra said he believed the city would never go back to what it was pre-pandemic but it would still be a great, if different, place.
“The Melbourne of February 2020 has gone,” Mr Guerra said.
“I’m not an advocate of returning to the office full-time. But I’m an advocate for returning to the office for three days a week, that’s in fact where we would’ve been five weeks ago.
“Now we have to break the habits of being at home and that’s hard to do as we come into the winter period.”
SNAG IN PLAN TO BRING BACK INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
Victoria’s latest plan to bring back international students has been thrown into doubt amid concerns that the proposal fails to have approval from the state’s chief health officer.
The state government last week said it had put forward a Student Arrivals Plan to Canberra but the opposition said the proposal was short on detail and didn’t have official health department backing.
Any plan to bring back students for the embattled tertiary education sector could be further hampered by National Cabinet’s decision on Friday slashing arrival numbers in half to reduce the Covid risk from overseas arrivals.
But Matt Bach, state opposition spokesman for higher education, said students overseas needed some certainty about returning to Australia to study.
“I’m not calling for a resumption of students returning tomorrow but we need a plan,’’
Mr Bach said the Victorian government should provide a final not a draft plan with all approvals in place in the way that enabled South Australia to begin a pilot program to bring in students and for NSW to get sign-off on its plan.
A Victorian government spokesman said the draft plan was submitted to the federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment for feedback on June 18.
“The draft plan is a detailed document that outlines how Victoria will facilitate the arrival of international students in a safe and measured way.”
“The plan also addresses DESE’s Protocols and Preconditions for International Student Arrivals,’’ he said.
Before the pandemic and border closures, international education was Victoria’s biggest industry, worth about $14 billion to the state economy.
In March and April, then Victorian Acting Premier James Merlino wrote to the federal government requesting a separate quarantine program to the regular international arrivals.
The so-called “economic cohorts’” program would be for international students, as well as people involved with major events, theatre and film production.
The original plan was for 120 arrivals a week from May 24.
The last week the state government said it had put forward a draft of its Student Arrivals Plan after liaising with universities and the Commonwealth Government.