“We send our best wishes and our sincere condolences to her family. This will be a difficult time, hopefully they take some small comfort knowing they are in our thoughts and prayers.”
There were no new cases recorded in Victoria on Monday, from 5030 tests taken on Sunday, marking Victoria’s 31st day of zeros. It comes as city workers began returning to offices, under density requirements and with cleaning protocols in place.
Under ongoing restrictions, from today businesses can allow 25 per cent of staff to return to the office. Masks are mandatory in all indoor settings, including on public transport.
Public servants will continue to work from home, if possible.
But The Age only witnessed a trickle of office workers taking public transport into the city on Monday morning.
There were 95 additional services scheduled either side of the morning and afternoon peaks on Monday to encourage people to stagger their travel times.
The Department of Transport was unsure if there had been any noticeable increase in public transport passenger numbers on Monday, but noted road use had remained consistent with last week.
“The roads look fairly similar to what they were last week, which was 90 per cent of where we were pre-COVID,” said Department of Transport spokesman Chris Miller.
On the trains, there were very few business shirts among the loose collective of high school students, essential workers and university students on the Upfield train line between 7am and 8am.
It was the same story on the Frankston line, where The Age spotted more school students than office workers.
One exception was Trevor, a part-time hospitality venue administration worker in a sharp suit and blue mask. He was heading into the CBD, after visiting his office only a handful of times through the pandemic.
“Last week was the first time I put on a suit on since March,” he said.
“I forgot my tie today,” he added, laughing.
Trevor, who did not wish to use his last name when discussing his employer, was heading in to do some stocktake work, but said he had no great desire to return to his pre-COVID lifestyle.
“I look after accounts and payroll, so a little bit of face-to-face time would be ideal,” he said.
“I haven’t told my boss yet, but [my plan is] probably half a day a week in the office, and the rest home.”
He said he valued the time he gained by not commuting.
“I live in Brunswick West and it takes an hour to get to the city – that’s two hours of your day back straight away,” he said.
But as a person who lives alone, Trevor admits he was pining for some face-to-face time with his colleagues. “Living by yourself you go a bit stir crazy.”
While returning to this office today was a choice for Trevor, for others – like insurance worker Emma Rushmore – it was mandatory. Her employer required all staff to attend the office so that they could receive computer upgrades.
Ms Rushmore lost her previous job due to the economic impact of COVID-19, so Monday marks her first day in an office she’s never seen.
“I was quite excited, I’ve been looking forward to coming back into a normal routine and I have missed coming into the city,” she said.
Travelling from near Geelong, Ms Rushworth faces a 90 minute to two-hour journey to get to the CBD. But it’s a commute she’s willing to cop now that she won’t be required in the city five days a week.
“If I’m not in the office every day it’ll be more doable,” she said.
Many people The Age spoke to on Monday didn’t work from home during the lockdowns as they had been classed as essential workers through both waves of COVID-19.
Supermarket manager Mitchell Edwards, 29, said he felt life hadn’t really changed much for workers like him. He said he enjoyed travelling on public transport throughout the pandemic, but it was bittersweet given the devastating impact of the coronavirus on people’s lives.
“That feeling of: ‘Oh, this is awesome, I’m not in someone’s armpit anymore’, but then, after a while, you kind of want to be back in someone’s armpit because it’s not for the right reasons,” he said.
Having watched the public transport system empty out over the past six months, and now seeing people return to it, Mr Edwards said he’d started to see a noticeable bottleneck on public transport towards the end of the day.
Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said he had received reports it was unlikely that 25 per cent of office workers had returned to work on Monday, and partially blamed public health directions that require office workers to wear a face mask indoors.
“One of the reasons that we’re hearing is that people don’t want to come in – put makeup on and put a mask on top of that. Equally, it is tough sitting at a desk with the mask on trying to do your job as well,” he said.
“I don’t think anybody has an issue wearing a mask to and from the office, the challenge is when you sitting down – same as hospitality – you should be able to take your mask off, if you’re on a call.”
But Mr Andrews said on Monday there were no plans to relax mask wearing indoors, and reminded the public the virus was far easier spread indoors than outdoors.
“I’m not saying that won’t happen, but I’ve got no advice to say that it will,” he said.
“This is an insurance policy, the discomfort of wearing a mask is nothing compared to the discomfort of shutting the place down again. I just don’t want to get to that.”
Those travelling on public transport are required to wear a mask not only while travelling, but while waiting at tram stops or on train platforms.
Last month, the National Institute of Economic Research produced modelling that showed the effect of COVID-19 was rewinding the past seven years of growth in work-related trips, cutting commuting into the city for work by 17.5 per cent, and that 100,000 fewer people would likely travel into the city for work.
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Rachael Dexter is a breaking news reporter at The Age.