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How To Stay Safe On Your Way Back To The Office When Restrictions Ease

As hoards of Aussies prepare to head back to work, our public transport systems could quickly return to being the packed people-movers they once were.

This means social-distancing will be nearly impossible unless state governments and transport bodies work together to determine how to deal with the influx of Australians who will once again frequent the nation's buses, ferries, trams and trains.

Some experts argue this would also require flexibility from workplaces, like staggering staff start times.

But what else do we need to do if we must face the inevitable -- travelling by public transport at peak hour?

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Speaking to 10 daily, epidemiologist and associate professor at LaTrobe University Hassan Vally said it might sound simple, but the best thing to do would be to not get on at all.

"If you have a choice not to, then don't," he said.  "This is a good opportunity to get a bike or walk."

He agreed staff should stagger work times with their employers, but if Australians must get on a bus or tram it is essential people follow the same principles they've been adhering to regarding social distancing.

"Commuters should find seats away from other people, but this will mean the government will have to think about what it can do to make sure that can happen," Vally said.

"Whether that be only letting a certain number of people onto public transport at a time.

"But if you cut capacity by say, 50 percent or more, those people still need to get to work, so how are we going to do that?"

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In  statement released to 10 daily, Transport Victoria said it is asking residents to travel outside of peak hour for the time being.

"There is a lot of work taking place right now on further measures that can be implemented in the coming months when people start returning to their workplaces under further easing of restrictions," the statement said.

About 200,000 Victorians have been using the public transport network each day over the last few weeks,the majority of those travellers being essential workers like doctors and nurses or children who need it to get to school, according to the state's transport body.

But as restrictions ease, numbers will begin to rise. Before the pandemic, Victorians took more than two million trips on trains, trams and buses every day, the state's transport department said.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian also discouraged public transport use during peak hour as coronavirus restrictions lift.

On Monday morning she announced plans to roll out pop-up car parks and bike lanes to curb the spread of coronavirus as people begin to return to offices.

Image: Getty

The commute is about to get a little busier, making social-distancing difficult. Image: GettyQueensland has experienced an 80 percent decrease in people using public transport year on year, but as Covid-19 restrictions begin to ease, TransLink also expects to see a gradual climb in the number of people using the network.

And that poses many challenges.

"To help avoid crowding on some vehicles, TransLink encourages customers to wait for the next service when required, to spread out their travel times to avoid peak periods and engage in active travel where appropriate," TransLink said in a statement obtained by 10 daily.

Larger vehicles have also been scheduled at peak periods on busier routes where possible, to meet travel demand, and hopefully allow patrons to social-distance.

But when social-distancing is just not physically possible, Australians are left with few other options.

That's why experts warn it's absolutely crucial commuters do not travel when sick, and maintain basic hygiene.

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"You should wash our hands a lot before you get on public transport and take hand sanitiser with you. You should also wash your hands once your arrive at your workplace," Vally said.

When asked whether commuters should wear face masks, Vally confessed it's a difficult question to answer because there are both positives and negatives.

"The government hasn't recommended people to wear a mask, but if you wear it properly it can offer you more protection. It's a personal choice," he explained.

"And it’s not an invincibility shield. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to practice social distancing or wash your hands if you're wearing one. Sometimes people in masks think they’re immune."

Vally said it will be peoples' choice unless the government changes its mind, or if the situation changes.

"For the moment, the best thing we can do is try and keep our distance from each other," he said.

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10 daily also reached out to The Department of Health, which said the standard principles to reduce transmission of Covid-19 will continue to apply for the foreseeable future, including when Aussies use public transport.

"This includes physical distancing, hygiene and cleaning regimes," the statement said.

"Most people will not benefit from wearing a surgical mask.

"Masks are of benefit with people who are sick because virus-laden mucus and secretions are captured by the mask rather than spreading beyond the person coughing or sneezing."

The demand for taxis and ride-sharing services is also likely to grow as we return to the workplace, but the likes of Uber and Ola have already introduced new measures to keep both drivers and passengers safe.

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In March, Uber asked travellers not to sit in the front and distributed hand sanitiser to all drivers.

And in a number of countries the ride-sharing giant is restricting the number of passengers from four to three for each individual ride.

In response to the pandemic, Ola launched Ola Pro -- a new, super-sanitised rideshare category which is being trialled in Sydney.

Each car involved in the trial is fitted with a transparent plastic screen between the front and back seats that acts as a hygiene barrier between the driver and rider.

Additionally, Vally said this is a time when the government's CovidSafe app could prove pretty useful.

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"If you're on public transport and someone is found to have the disease, you could have been sitting next to them for 15 minutes or more but you don't know that but the app can help," he said.

Contact the author: elyons@networkten.com.au