Victoria toughens coronavirus work-from-home directives to keep people out of offices for June

| 29.05,20. 05:19 PM |

Victoria toughens coronavirus work-from-home directives to keep people out of offices for June

Mr Andrews said Victorians who were working from home must keep doing so for June.

Victoria has hardened its stance on people returning to workplaces, saying if employees have been working from home they must continue to do so for all of June.

Restrictions are set to relax on Monday June 1, allowing businesses including cafes and restaurants to again have dine-in guests and permitting people to gather in larger groups.

But the Government has consistently asked people who can work from home to put off returning to the office until at least July — in contrast to many other states, which are allowing people to return to workplaces sooner.

Premier Daniel Andrews today announced the stay-at-home directions would be amended from Monday to say if people had been working from home throughout the shutdown period, they had to continue doing so.

"The original policy was very much about if you can work from home," Mr Andrews said.

"We're not requiring any more people to work from home than has been the case over these last eight to 10 weeks, we're simply asking for the maintenance, the continuation of those work from home arrangements.

"It's critically important to avoiding a second wave."

Businesses could be fined $100,000
The state is moving from an advisory to an order by the Chief Health Officer under the Health and Wellbeing Act, which carries penalties for breaches.

"If an office that currently had 80 per cent of staff working from home … ignored the Chief Health Officer and had everyone come back Monday, then they would be in breach of the public health orders and there are significant penalties," Mr Andrews said.

Speaking ahead of today's National Cabinet meeting, Mr Andrews said the focus on enforcement would be "much more about those who are in charge of the workplace" than workers.

But he said he did not think it would come to fining companies, because the Government had consulted with industry.

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos confirmed employers faced "significant" fines of $100,000 for breaching the new directions.

"It is enforceable, there are potentially some very big fines involved, so if someone was to be taken to court if they wilfully, blatantly breached the legal direction, [it's] potentially $100,000 for businesses, so significant penalties," she told ABC Radio Melbourne.

"In essence, we don't think it's going to come to people being fined … if you've been working from home in recent weeks, you must continue to do so, so nothing changes.

"So if your employer has supported you to work from home — essentially for most office workers that's been the situation — then they're responsible now to support their staff to continue to work from home to keep their staff safe and to keep all Victorians safe."

Movement around Victoria on the rise
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the important thing about the work-from-home directive was that it applied to hundreds of thousands of people who would then be avoiding congested spaces in workplaces, lowering foot traffic and decreasing the number of people on public transport.

"When you can do something that supports hundreds of thousands of people to maintain another level of physical distancing, that's a really powerful additional measure that can drive down transmission of this virus," he said.

Data released by the Government shows the number of trips on public transport has increased by 23 per cent since last week.

Approximately 389,000 trips were taken on the network on Wednesday — 18 per cent of the 2 million trips taken in normal times, but about 73,000 more trips than the week before.

Government modelling shows it is difficult for each person to have the required four square metres of space when patronage is above 15 per cent of capacity.

Road usage is also on the rise, with traffic about 77 per cent of normal levels on Wednesday, up from 71 per cent a week earlier.

Pedestrian numbers across the City of Melbourne have been steadily increasing week-on-week.

While hospitality, fitness, cultural and beauty businesses will open their doors on Monday, health officials are most concerned about the impact of office workers on the public transport network.

The Government and health officials are yet to announce when the work-from-home directive will come to an end.

Professor Sutton said on Thursday a staged return to workplaces in July was "not out of the question" but it would depend on the rate of new infections and testing rates.

He said it was not likely to be feasible to place hard-and-fast rules on the number of people per public transport service.

Mr Andrews acknowledged the work-from-home arrangements were proving frustrating for many Victorians.

"The key point here is we can't switch back to normal, we've got to find a COVID normal," he said.

Government in public transport rescue package talks
The Government is working with public transport operators in Victoria who have taken a significant financial hit as a result of the pandemic.

Metro Trains and Yarra Trams have have been broadly running normal timetables despite the huge drop in commuters.

Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan declined to confirm reports the Government was eyeing a $50 million rescue package for Metro Trains and Yarra Trams.

But she said the Government was in discussions with the providers about the "unprecedented reduction in passenger numbers".

"It's entirely appropriate to continue to talk to them and look at ways to continue the operation of our public transport system," she said.

"It's supporting the thousands of people who work in the public transport system. It's also supporting the many people who need to see our public transport keep running."


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