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Commonwealth three-step COVIDSafe plan details when Australians return to work

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The federal government has laid out its three-step plan on getting Australia back on its feet following the coronavirus pandemic, which also includes businesses reopening and people returning to work.

In steps one and two of the government’s plan, which has been dubbed as the “roadmap to a COVIDSafe Australia”, people are encouraged to continue to work from home if it suits them and their employer. However, by step three the federal government wants to see Australians back in the workplace.

“There will be more work to do on step three but most workers, by then, will be back in the workplace,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.

The prime minister said the plan, which would be reviewed every three weeks, is expected to help restore some 850,000 jobs in the months ahead.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy highlighted that as businesses reopen and more people return to work, businesses are encouraged to develop a COVIDSafe plan that features social distancing guidelines.

“Everyone continues to practise physical distancing all the time. Everyone maintains good hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, everybody stays at home when they’re unwell no matter how mild your cold or your cough, stay home when you’re unwell, and please get a COVID test … no more heroics of coming to work with a cough, and a cold, and a sore throat. That’s off the agenda for every Australian for the foreseeable future, please. The COVID safe plans for the workplaces are really important,” he said.

It follows his warning earlier this week that the way of working would be different post-COVID.

“Hot desking would have to be done in a different way … so distancing, so staggered start times and finish times,” he said.

“We don’t want everybody crowding on public transport at the same time. We don’t want everyone crowding in the lifts at the beginning of the day and the end of the day. So, staggered working start times [and] distancing if you are doing hot desks or sharing common spaces.”

While it will be up to the state and territories to decide how quickly the three-step plan is implemented, Morrison said he wants to “achieve that COVIDSafe economy in July of this year”.

The South Australian government is among the first off the rank to announce it would make changes to the state’s COVID-19 restrictions following the National Cabinet meeting. The changes will come into effect from May 11.

Joining South Australia will be Queensland from May 15, after it eased some restrictions last weekend.

This will allow gatherings of a maximum of 10 people together in a public space; reopening of libraries, playground equipment, skate parks, and outdoor gyms with a maximum of 10 people; and recreational day trips of a radius of up to 150km for a person’s home.

“Last weekend we announced the first wave of eased restrictions and Queenslanders did us proud. Let’s keep it up to move to stages two and three. We want to keep taking steps forward, not backwards,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

On Friday, Morrison also took the opportunity to reiterate the importance of downloading the COVIDSafe app, which has now seen over 5.3 million registers.

“Downloading the COVIDSafe app, which is now over 5.3 million, is the best way you can help us do this job, to keep you and your family safe,” he said.

During the lead-up to the app’s release, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there was a need for around 40% of Australia’s population to use the app for the initiative to work.

However, on Wednesday, Department of Health acting secretary Caroline Edwards told the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 that the department responsible for the app was focused on reaching critical mass.

“No advice in relation to targets,” Edwards said in response to questioning on whether Health had a number in mind before it would advise that restrictions be lifted.

“The more, the better.”

Hosted by Amazon Web Services out of its Sydney region, the app is a rework of Singapore’s TraceTogether. Its source code is due out within a fortnight.

Through the use of Bluetooth, the app records “digital handshakes” for each minute that two phones using the app are in contact.

When a user tests positive for coronavirus, they are asked to upload the handshakes to a centralised National COVIDSafe Data Store, which are then accessed by contract tracers to notify people who are determined to be at risk.

The handshakes contain: The unique IDs of each user in contact — said to be an “encrypted version of the user’s mobile phone number”; Bluetooth signal strength used to determine distance; and a timestamp. Handshakes are stored on mobile devices and deleted 21 days after being created.