Canberra’s Commonwealth offices may start emptying again as public service chiefs weigh the benefits of keeping their staff at home as the new wave of COVID-19 sweeps across the national capital.
As health authorities warn of a tripling of daily case numbers to 3000 in the coming weeks, the Australian Public Service Commission has issued new advice to agency bosses on how to cope with the deteriorating situation.
It is still up to individual agencies how they respond to the increasingly risky work environment, but they must update their business continuity plans to account for the emergence of new variants and fluctuations in cases, including the impact of staff absences due to illness.
Agency heads should take into account public health and other relevant advice, as well as the need to ensure that workplaces continue to be safe, with reference to the National COVID-19 Safe Workplaces Principles.
While the public health advice may not be binding, if it provides a best practice approach, agencies should consider adopting it but remain flexible as advice changes, given the new COVID-19 variants and rising case numbers.
For those who need not be in the office, working from home may be a suitable option, the APSC says.
“Agency heads must consider the individual circumstances of employees and the epidemiological environment,” it says.
They should put in place arrangements to support employees working from home, including regular check-in arrangements, teleconferences and other ways to maintain regular communication between staff and their managers.
If staff are unable to find care for their children, agencies should look to flexible working arrangements to allow them to continue working.
Staff can also use available leave, including paid carer’s leave.
Agencies should continually assess their workplaces to ensure they remain COVID-safe and engage with staff and unions on safe work practices and minimising transmission of the virus.
On Monday, ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said that the current COVID-19 wave – driven by the spread of the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of Omicron – could peak with daily caseloads between 2000 and 3000.
She said that this wave would peak at the end of July or early August but not before putting the already strapped health system under even more strain.
The number of people in hospital is also expected to climb, peaking at around 200. Currently, there are around 140 people in ACT hospitals with the virus. Deaths are also forecast to rise.
The winter wave is being complicated by the spread of other respiratory illnesses such as RSV and influenza.
The Circular can be viewed on the APSC website.