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Covid-19 News Updates

Slater & Gordon injured by lockdowns with $7.5m loss

Slater & Gordon injured by lockdowns with $7.5m loss

Slater & Gordon (ASX: SGH) shares fell to all-time lows this morning after the firm revealed a $10.6 million swing into the red for its December half results, as lockdowns led to less work in its personal injury law (PIL) business.

The Melbourne-based company, also known for its class action work, reported a $7.5 million loss compared to a $3.1 million profit in the previous corresponding period.

"While these results are disappointing, the fact that we have been able to largely absorb the impact of the significant disruptions caused by the COVID pandemic to date shows we have made reasonable progress in rebuilding the resilience of our business. However, we clearly have more work to do," CEO John Sommerville said.

"This half demonstrated how unpredictable the impacts of COVID and the government restrictions can be."

The personal injury law division accounts for the bulk of the firm's revenue, and was down 14.3 per cent at $71.8 million. Fees actually rose slightly, but work in progress-related revenue plummeted by around two-thirds as lockdowns in Victoria and NSW impacted file progression.

"It was pleasing to see the resilience of our Personal Injury Law fees, which demonstrates the hard work put in by our people in extremely trying times," Sommerville said.

At the time of writing SGH shares are down by almost 6 per cent at $0.63, having fallen to as low as $0.61 earlier this morning.

The law firm notes that until the December half its performance had not been materially impacted by the pandemic, and while there has been some improvement following the easing of restrictions, COVID-related restrictions on work remain which may continue to affect performance.

Class action fees also declined in the half by 5 per cent, although SGH says a highlight was securing compensation and an apology for First Nations survivors of abuse suffered as children at the Garden Point Catholic Church mission on Melville Island.

Slater & Gordon also highlights a continued focus on social justice with 73 employees working on a pro bono basis to support Afghan refugees with immigration applications.

Expenses have also gone up by 3 per cent, mostly because of ongoing investment in hiring talent to support growth, as well as a build-up of leave provisions arising from extended lockdowns in Victoria and New South Wales.

The firm has neither sought nor received Jobkeeper assistance at any time.

Welcome back: Australia reopens to double-vaccinated international travellers

Welcome back: Australia reopens to double-vaccinated international travellers

After closing international borders almost two years ago, Australia is welcoming double-vaccinated travellers into the nation as 56 flights touch down in the country today.

While passengers must take a rapid-antigen test (RAT) or PCR test within 24 hours of their arrival, they are only required to quarantine until they receive a negative result.

The mandate applies to most states and territories - with the exception of Western Australia, which will require international arrivals to undertake a rapid antigen test within 12 hours of arriving from 3 March. On the same date, WA will also open its borders to triple-dosed interstate travellers. 

The first flight into Sydney touched down from Los Angeles at 6:20am and was followed by arrivals from Tokyo and Vancouver.

Qantas Group (ASX: QAN) CEO Alan Joyce said bookings had been strong since the government announced the country was opening to international visitors, with today’s arrivals to be the first of many.

“It’s fair to say we’ve all been waiting a long time to welcome visitors back to Australia. The thousands of international tourists arriving this week and many more over the coming months will help kickstart the tourism industry which has done it tough for the past couple of years,” Joyce said.

“We’re in this position today thanks to the millions of Australians who rolled up their sleeves to get the jab and give the Australian Government and state and territory governments’ confidence that we can safely reopen to the world.

“We can clearly see from the Australian Government’s announcement that people are very keen to come back to Australia, and we continue to see strong bookings out of the US and UK, as well as South Africa and Canada.”

Unvaccinated travellers who do not hold medical exemptions must enter hotel quarantine for seven to 14 days, depending on which state or territory they arrive in.

For example, New South Wales has mandated a seven-day hotel quarantine period for unvaccinated arrivals, whilst South Australia has a 14-day quarantine in place.  

There are approximately 1.23 million student, visitor and working holiday maker visa holders offshore who, if vaccinated, will be able to travel into Australia.

The return of double international visitors is welcome news for Australia's tourism sector, which supports 660,000 jobs and contributed $60.4 billion to the economy in 2018-19.

Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan said the return of international arrivals was an important step in Australia's COVID-19 recovery.

“Australia's health and economic response to the pandemic has been among the best in the world, with one of the highest vaccination rates and low mortality,” he said.

“We are successfully managing the pandemic and learning to live with the virus. Australians are travelling overseas, and we are welcoming international visitors to our country.

“International tourists will come here to see our iconic attractions, sample our world-leading food and drink, learn about our Indigenous culture, and enjoy the Australian way of life.”

Tourism Australia Managing Director Phillipa Harrison said the tourism industry has been looking forward to the return of international tourists.

“At Tourism Australia we are so excited to be welcoming back international visitors who make up a critical part of our visitor economy,” Harrison said.

“We know Australia remains an incredibly desirable destination for international visitors and we can’t wait to once again share all of the unforgettable tourism experiences we have to offer here in Australia.”

Australia launches new national brand

In the lead up to the border reopening, the federal government announced a new national brand that features a kangaroo and the tagline “Only in Australia.”

Co-created with indigenous designers, the brand elements are inspired by ancient stories from the Dreaming – which is an indigenous religion and worldview – and embody the spirit of Yamulhu awara ambirriju, meaning ‘Good country up ahead, good feeling for the future’ in the Yanyuwa language spoken by families in Borroloola in the Northern Territory.

More than 300 marketing resources will be available for free to help Australian businesses attract overseas investment and visitors.

Australia's Nation Brand logo

Development was led by Australia’s Nation Brand Advisory Council, including business leaders such as Fortescue Metals (ASX: FMG) and Future Industries Chair Andrew Forrest AO, Atlassian co-founder and CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, and Vogue, GQ and Publisher Prestige editor-in-chief Edwina McCann. 

“In an increasingly connected and competitive international market, celebrating our unique Australian character with a unified and strong Nation Brand will help us stand out from the pack and the tagline ‘Only in Australia’ will amplify Australia’s reputation for quality, creativity and innovation,” said brand advisory council chair Dr Forrest.

The federal, state and territory governments were consulted through the process, as well as more than 480 senior industry representatives and 22,000 people in Australia.

More than 350 Australian organisations have already taken the national brand and tagline on board.

Updated at 4.44pm AEDT on 21 February 2022.

Spending vouchers, ventilation upgrades to breathe new life into Victoria with $200m stimulus

Spending vouchers, ventilation upgrades to breathe new life into Victoria with $200m stimulus

A wide-reaching support package has been announced in Victoria that will encourage people to get out and enjoy the state's cultural offering, while equipping businesses with the tools to lift confidence and capacity through improved ventilation, job placements and digitalisation.

The state government's $200 million package aims to help businesses recover strongly from the effects of the Omicron variant, targeting key sectors such as hospitality and tourism.

A new and extended $100 million voucher scheme will provide rebates to Victorians for entertainment, dining and travel with a $10 million round of Melbourne Money to be delivered with the City of Melbourne, enticing diners back to city cafes, bars and restaurants by reimbursing part of their bill.

The scheme will be extended across the state, with a new $30 million program providing rebates on food and wine experiences in regional areas and in suburbs beyond Melbourne’s borders.

A new entertainment voucher scheme will provide $30 million in rebates for tickets to the theatre, live music, cinemas, museums, galleries, conferences, exhibitions and other events across Victoria.

A new $30 million round of the Victorian Travel Voucher Scheme will encourage even more people to holiday at home and spend on accommodation, attractions and tours.

"This will help businesses in the creative sector while encouraging Victorians to get back to what they love doing," says Minister for Creative Industries Danny Pearson.

"Our arts and cultural scene was hit hard by the global pandemic and that’s why we’re supporting these businesses to bounce back in 2022."

The fresh stimulus also includes a $60 million Ventilation Voucher Program to help small businesses purchase equipment and upgrades to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace and improve customer confidence, with rebates of up to $5,000 available as well as $500 vouchers.

The government is also taking steps to support jobs, training and upgrading systems to new technologies. Some $34.2 million of Jobs Victoria funding will be used to place workers in more than 1,500 jobs across hospitality, warehousing and logistics, tourism and food processing.

A further $5 million will extend the Small Business Digital Adaptation Program, providing rebates of up to $1,200 so businesses can access a range of digital tools.

The extension of the Business Recovery and Resilience Mentoring Program with the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry will also mean more small businesses will have access to coaching.

“We’re encouraging Victorians to experience the best the state has to offer by going to see a show, having lunch with friends or visiting somewhere new," says Minister for Industry Support and Recovery Martin Pakula.

“Business and consumer confidence is critical for our continued economic recovery and that’s why we’re investing in these programs to deliver a boost where it is needed most.”

Singing and dancing back in NSW from tomorrow as most restrictions ease

Singing and dancing back in NSW from tomorrow as most restrictions ease

New South Wales has followed its southern counterpart Victoria in announcing a raft of eased COVID-19 restrictions today, set to come into effect from tomorrow.

Described as “measured” and “appropriate” by Premier Dominic Perrottet, the easing of restrictions includes the removal of density limits and the reintroduction of singing and dancing in indoor venues.

In addition, the state government will no longer recommend people work from home, and will instead leave that direction to be at the discretion of employers.

“These changes today are measured and proportionate to circumstances we find ourselves in,” the Premier said.

“We are able to lift these restrictions based on the efforts that people have made right across the state.”

As such, from Friday 18 February, the two-square-metre density limit will be removed, and singing and dancing will be permitted at all venues except for music festivals where it will recommence from 25 February.

QR check-in requirements will be ditched across the board, except for nightclubs and at music festivals with more than 1,000 people in attendance.

One week later, on 25 February, even more restrictions will be eased, including the removal of the mask mandate and the 20,000 person cap on music festivals.

Masks will no longer be required in indoor settings except for on public transport, but the NSW Government will still encourage masks be worn where individuals cannot maintain a safe distance from others.

Finally, the duration of hotel quarantine for unvaccinated travellers will be reduced from 14 days to just seven.

“As we move forward, there is the potential that we will have spikes in cases from time to time,” Perrottet noted.

“That is not a measure of success or failure, that is living alongside the virus. This is the new reality.”

Updated at 1.32pm AEDT on 17 February 2022.

Victoria’s COVID restrictions to ease as hospitalisation and infection numbers fall

Victoria’s COVID restrictions to ease as hospitalisation and infection numbers fall

The Victorian Government will ease COVID-19 restrictions from 6pm tomorrow in line with decreasing hospitalisation and infection numbers, and as more than half of the state’s eligible population has received three doses of a vaccine.

Density limits will increase, dancefloors will return and QR code check-in requirements will be ditched in some settings at 6pm Friday, 18 February.

“We always said these measures wouldn’t be in place for a minute longer than they are needed, and with hospitalisation numbers decreasing and less pressure on our health system, now is a sensible time to make changes,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.

“We’re grateful to everyone who has been doing the right thing, helping to reduce the impact of this virus on the community, our healthcare system and our economy.”

As part of new pandemic orders to be signed by the Minister for Health, density limits of one person per two square meters in place at hospitality and entertainment venues will be removed. Indoor dancefloors at these venues can also re-open.

Under the orders, QR code check-in requirements will no longer be in place at retail venues, schools (including childcare and early childhood) and for employees at many workplaces. QR code check-in and vaccination check requirements will remain in all ‘vaccinated economy’ settings such as hospitality and entertainment venues.

Further, mandatory surveillance testing requirements for key industries including meat processing will be scrapped, in favour of the government moving to make testing ‘recommended-only’.

Requirements for hospital worker ‘bubbles’ will also be removed, but health services may still implement them at their discretion.

Small adjustments will also occur to border settings for international arrivals, who will no longer be required to obtain an international arrivals permit through Service Victoria. The 14-day hotel quarantine period for international visitors and aircrew who aren’t fully vaccinated or medically exempt will reduce to seven days.

The changes come in light of increased vaccination rates in Victoria, alongside decreased hospitalisation and infection numbers.

When Victoria’s density quotient restrictions were first announced on 6 January, the third dose vaccination rate for Victorians aged 16 and over was only 12.7 per cent, compared to 52.2 per cent today. When the dancefloor closure was announced on 10 January, 818 Victorians were in hospital with COVID-19, compared to 401 today.

“These are safe and sensible measures which balance the need to support our health system with the benefits of easing restrictions across a range of settings,” Victorian Minister for Health Martin Foley said.

“Changes to QR code requirements will still support our focus on the highest-risk settings most likely to generate super-spreader events – and we will keep reviewing the system over time in line with the epidemiological situation.”

Victoria reported 14 deaths from COVID-19 today, and 8,501 new cases.

Updated at 12.58pm AEDT on 17 February 2022.

Vital Signs: small businesses need a national support plan to survive shadow lockdowns

Vital Signs: small businesses need a national support plan to survive shadow lockdowns

The “shadow lockdown” accompanying the Omicron outbreak should have come as no surprise to Australia’s policy makers. But the type of government support that helped so many individuals and businesses survive the official lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 is absent.

In the face of large case counts, hospitalisations and deaths from Omicron, people voluntarily cut back on economic activity. Why risk going out for a meal or sitting in a theatre while infections are raging?

This effect was quantified as early as mid-2020 by two University of Chicago economists, who calculated (using data from 2.25 million businesses across 110 industries) that nearly 90% of the reduction in economic activity in the United States stemmed from voluntary “self-lockdowns”, rather than government-imposed restrictions.

In Australia, we can see the effect in consumer confidence plummeting in January 2022 to its lowest level since October 2020 (and the worst January result since 1992).

For many small business owners, the past month has felt like the most difficult period of the pandemic. The single biggest government support measure, the A$90 billion JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme, was phased out in March 2021, with most other support winding up by the end of the year.

Given small businesses employ more than 5 million Australians – more than 40% of private-sector jobs – how we can help them survive this pandemic now, and if more COVID variants emerge?

The current patchwork of state and federal COVID payments

The following tables summarise the COVID-specific support programs that are still available today.

For individuals, the main support is the federal government’s Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment, which provides up to $1,500 for two weeks for individuals who cannot work because of having to isolate, quarantine or care for someone with COVID-19.

Most states and territories also provide a lesser one-off payment to support those who have to isolate but who can’t access the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment.

On the business side, the federal government has its SME Recovery Loan Scheme, which guarantees 50% of loan amounts for eligible businesses with turnovers up to $250 million. This scheme is scheduled to run until June 30, 2022.

The states and territories have wound up most of their general business support programs, with what remains targeted at particular interest groups or sectors.

Most generous are the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory governments, which have “business hardship” packages offering rebates to reduce or waive payments such as payroll tax, utilities bills and rates.

New South Wales has a more limited rebate scheme, offering up to $2,000 to sole traders, small businesses and not-for-profit organisations to offset costs such as food licences, liquor licences, tradesperson licences, event fees, outdoor seating fees, council rates and road user tolls. It also has (my personal favourite) the Alfresco Restart Rebate, giving up $5,000 for restaurants to create or expand their outdoor dining area.

Queensland has a cleaning rebate for businesses and not-for-profit organisations designated exposure sites by Queensland Health. Victoria has a scheme to help commercial tenants cover rent.

Paying to save jobs across NSW

But given how tough small businesses are doing it, many people think these measures aren’t enough.

One of those people is the NSW treasurer, Matt Kean.

On January 30 he announced $1 billion in support for businesses with “JobSaver 2.0”, resurrecting the JobSaver program that had subsidised up to 40% of payroll expenses for businesses suffering a 30% fall in turnover due to official lockdowns.

JobSaver 2.0 reimburses businesses (of less than $50 million turnover) 20% of their weekly payroll, up to a cap of $5,000, if they have lost 40% of turnover during January.

JobSaver had been half funded by the federal government. Kean did not disguise his unhappiness about the federal government refusing to help with JobSaver 2.0, saying:

I was hoping to make this announcement standing beside the Prime Minister today and the Treasurer [Josh] Frydenberg, but they’re not to be found

Frydenberg, reportedly, did take Kean’s proposal to the prime minister, who in March 2020 had approved A$320 billion of fiscal support (equivalent to 16.4% of GDP). But this time, Scott Morrison apparently rejected the idea.

The case for a national plan

This is more than just a question of who pays – the Commonwealth or the states and territories. It’s about what is going to be required to get small businesses, who often have fragile balance sheets, through this stage of the pandemic.

One view is the Omicron cases are falling and consumer confidence should pick up, so there’s no need for extra support now.

But it would be rather brave to predict there won’t be further COVID-19 variants and outbreaks. If and when there are, consumers will go back into self-lockdown.

Do we really want more argy-bargy between states and the feds in the future, while consumer confidence plummets and with it small business revenues?

A far better solution would be to have an Australia-wide, federally funded support plan triggered by case numbers.

This would provide predictable support for business, including those working across state borders, by allowing them to plan, invest and keep hiring workers. And it would deliver a shot of confidence for consumers for the remainder of the pandemic – however long that may be.

The alternative is to stay in a constant crouch, waiting for the next outbreak and hoping some form of government support will arrive in time.

We should be able to do better by our small businesses and the many Australians who work for them.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Victoria to lift hospital Code Brown alert on Monday

Victoria to lift hospital Code Brown alert on Monday

Hospitals in Victoria will no longer be operating under a Code Brown alert from this coming Monday, 14 February, with the state government confident the COVID situation is coming under control - easing pressure on the system.

At a press conference today, Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley announced the state was in a position to lift the Code Brown alert safely, meaning more elective surgeries will be able to go ahead.

“While we’re still going to be very, very busy, we are in a position to safely lift the code brown alert,” Foley said.

“It also allows us to continue down the path of the careful, steady relaxation of the deferral of elective surgery.”

As such, private sector areas will be allowed to return to 50 per cent of all elective surgery arrangements, while regional healthcare providers can return to 70 per cent of elective surgeries.

“It will be extended to multi-day locations and facilities, therefore allowing more complex and serious operations to be brought in,” Foley said.

“We will continue to monitor the arrangements in place in close consultation with private operators.”

Victoria today recorded 13 deaths and 8,521 new cases of COVID-19. There are 553 people with the virus in the state’s hospital system, of which 82 are in intensive care.

Updated at 1.22pm AEDT on 11 February 2022.

ATAGI recommends three jabs to be considered 'up to date' with vaccines

ATAGI recommends three jabs to be considered 'up to date' with vaccines

Australians aged 16 and older will soon require a booster shot of a COVID-19 vaccine to be considered “up to date” with their immunisation after the nation’s leading medical advisory body recommended moving away from the term “fully vaccinated”.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) put forward the new guidelines to serve “as the basis for policies for the public health management of the COVID-19 pandemic in a domestic context.”

The Federal Government has accepted the advice, noting it has secured more than 151 million booster doses for delivery over the next 12 months.

“Under the new advice, a person is ‘up to date’ if they have completed all the doses recommended for their age and individual health needs,” Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt said.

“ATAGI recommend that everyone aged 16 years and older receive a booster dose three months after their primary course, to maintain the best protection and an ‘up to date’ status.”

Under the new guidelines, anyone aged 16 and older will also be considered “overdue” for a booster shot six months after receiving their second jab.

In the event more than six months pass, ATAGI says the vaccine can still be “given safely and effectively.”

It also suggested that any state or territory planning to adopt the new definition should allow until the end of March to sufficiently implement the changes.

However, the shift will not apply to international arrivals.

“Appropriate vaccination requirements relating to international border settings are outside the remit of ATAGI and are a matter for other government policies,” ATAGI said.

The Federal Government has mandated booster shots in the aged-care sector, delegating power to states and territories to mandate it in other settings.

Children will continue to be considered ‘up to date’ without a booster, while severely immunocompromised people aged five years and older will require a third primary dose to meet the definition.

National Cabinet noted that the Omicron wave has peaked in most states and territories, as cases have fallen by 20 per cent since peak levels in mid-January.

Hospitalisations have fallen by 63 per cent since then, and ventilated cases have dropped by 54 per cent.

More than 9.5 million booster doses have been administered to 46.3 per cent of Australians.

ATAGI acknowledges that advice may change as the pandemic evolves.

Updated at 11.04am AEDT on 11 February 2022.

SA to ease restrictions on hospitality and fitness industries from midnight

SA to ease restrictions on hospitality and fitness industries from midnight

Hospitality and fitness operators will be able to welcome more punters and clients back from tomorrow after the South Australian government announced a fresh batch of eased restrictions today.

As part of the state’s plan to ease some restrictions every fortnight, the South Australian Premier Steven Marshall says density limits for gyms and hospitality venues will ease at 12.01am tonight.

Fitness businesses will move from a one person per seven square metre rule to the more lenient one person per four square metre rule.

Meanwhile, hospitality venues will be able to seat more people outdoors, with bars, pubs and clubs soon able to move to the three people per four square metre rule.

The 50 per cent density limit on indoors will remain, but standing consumption of alcohol in an outdoor setting will be permitted.

The Premier also announced home gatherings will be allowed to host 50 people, up from a current limit of 10.

“[The COVID response committee] had three meetings this week and we feel very confident this further easing of restrictions is not going to put undue pressure on our hospital system in South Australia,” Premier Marshall said.

“This will ease the burden on households and businesses, particularly the fitness sector, the hospitality sector, the catering sector in South Australia.”

Marshall also announced that new guidance about the capacity of office buildings will come into effect from Monday, encouraging offices to permit up to 50 per cent of the workforce at once.

However, the Premier noted the wearing of masks in an office environment is still “strongly recommended”.

“This is still a highly transmissible variant,” the Premier said.

“We want to make sure that we can do everything we can to ease those restrictions but not have a second wave in South Australia.”

South Australia today recorded 1,639 new cases of COVID-19 and seven deaths of people with the virus.

Updated at 3.56pm AEDT on 10 February 2022.

Omicron grinds down café spending in CBDs with recovery to pre-COVID levels unlikely

Omicron grinds down café spending in CBDs with recovery to pre-COVID levels unlikely

Weekday café transactions in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are below 40 per cent of pre-COVID levels as the Omicron outbreak reinforces remote working arrangements, but a senior economist at ANZ (ASX: ANZ) believes structural changes in the workplace mean they are unlikely to hit pre-pandemic rates even when conditions improve.

ANZ Research senior economist Adelaide Timbrell says café transactions in Sydney are currently at 36 per cent of pre-pandemic numbers, versus 31 per cent in Brisbane and 28 per cent in Melbourne.

"This data does show that there is some structural change in the way people are working, and the strongest evidence of that is actually in the period between the second wave of COVID in 2020 and the Delta outbreaks in the second half of 2021," Timbrell explains.

"You can see that particularly in Sydney and Melbourne café transactions didn't get up anywhere near where they were in 2019 which means that even when there really wasn't much of COVID within those cities, or any COVID risk in some parts of that period, people still weren’t coming back into the office.

"We can even see in the Brisbane CBD where there really wasn’t any COVID for most of 2021, but it was still showing less café transactions on weekdays in the CBD."

Brisbane experienced a much deeper drop in café spending early in the year, which Timbrell notes is explained by the Queensland capital's relative lack of outbreaks compared to larger southern cities before Omicron.

"That’s why the Omicron dip actually went a lot lower in Brisbane because people had not become accustomed to that risk, and it’s something that may take a little bit longer to come back up," the economist says.

"Brisbane has had less of that shake up of the status quo. It had less months where there was widespread working from home, which means fewer people are likely to shift their working preferences and their working style as a result of COVID."

There are huge swings in the Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide data because of short, sharp lockdowns throughout 2021. In the case of Perth and Adelaide, their spending rates compared to 2019 are relatively better at 69 per cent and 71 per cent respectively.

"If we look through those short-term changes, what we're seeing is that smaller CBDs, because they didn’t have that forced experiment of a long lockdown where a lot of people are working from home, they're less likely to have as big of a structural change," Timbrell says.

"The bigger the city, the more likely we are to see more people working from home compared to pre-COVID.

"If we look at Adelaide for example, or Perth as well, what we see is that the number of people who are working from home and the number of café transactions haven’t really changed as much, compared to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane."

The economist does however believe that as the health risk situation improves, rates are likely to go up but will be short of 2019 levels for "quite some time". In the pandemic thus far, the best percentage achieved last year was for Sydney, rising above the 80 per cent mark.

"I think it's very possible that it will get back to that 80 per cent level in Sydney. There's no reason why if we do see a reduction in cases that we won't see an increase in office occupancy, and that economic activity in the CBD," Timbrell says.

"What we are unlikely to see, though, is right back up to that 100 per cent of pre-COVID level."

When asked whether employer in-office working mandates could turn the tide, Timbrell said the current labour market dynamics more broadly were working in favour of employees, and survey data indicates they would like to continue working from home.

"There are going to be different dynamics from business to business about how much employees are expected to go into the office. One piece of data that I think's really relevant to that is the unemployment rate and under-utilisation rate from December," she says.

"The unemployment rate is now down at 4.2 per cent, and the rate of people who either are unemployed or don't have enough hours at their current job is actually at a 13-year low.

"What that means is employees have more bargaining power than they have in the past."

She believes this means employers may face a talent exodus if they do not go along with employees’ wishes to work from home at least a few days a week.

"Of course it depends on the business and the industry, but when there are so many jobs out there and so few unemployed people, there do tend to be some changes in that bargaining behaviour," she clarifies.

In other data, she adds discretionary spending is improving across several categories as expected following the slow start to the year due to Omicron, but the most encouraging statistic relates to accommodation spending.

"One thing that jumped out at me a little bit was that accommodation spending is actually now a little bit above where it was in January 2020," she says.

"Obviously, two years’ worth of inflation means we’re not exactly where we were, but when we look at the data on accommodation, what we are seeing is that people do have some appetite to travel within Australia.

"That is a really positive thing for domestic tourism, because 75 per cent of Australia's tourism money actually comes from Australian residents travelling within Australia. Seeing those accommodation numbers is a really good sign for that."

And could this be accelerated further once Australia opens up to the world in 11 days' time?

"There does tend to be a bit of a lag between when you're allowed to travel somewhere and when people actually start doing it. We saw that when we had the Australia New Zealand bubble, but it really didn't have as much demand as some people were expecting," she says.

"We're not exactly expecting a huge rush out the gate when it comes to people coming into Australia, particularly for holiday-related or business-related tourism, but we will see a build in international tourism through the year, especially if those borders do stay sustainably open."