Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Australian Chief Medical Officer says work will be different post-COVID

Hot desking will be different, and so will start and finish times.

Australia's Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Brendan Murphy has said that once coronavirus restrictions are eased and Australians return to work, the way of working will be different.

"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."  

He added more meetings are also likely to happen online.

"We want cleaning products everywhere. We want staff to have a responsibility for hygiene. Hand sanitiser everywhere. Everybody sanitising their hands. People not shaking their hands. People not crowding into a small room for a meeting. Using video meetings where it's possible to do it. Not travelling interstate for a meeting that you can do via video," he said.

On Tuesday, Murphy also revealed that nearly 5 million Australians have registered for the COVIDSafe app.

"We're tantalisingly close to 5 million, I think it is 4.95 million downloads at the moment," Murphy said on Tuesday afternoon during a press conference.

This latest number takes Australia slightly closer to the federal government's download target of 16 million.

Murphy urged downloading the app would help control any future outbreaks.

"We do need more because whilst at the moment with low case numbers the contact tracing is being done very efficiently and well by our state and territory public health units, if we do get outbreaks in the future that we want to control quickly, the app will be a very significant help to us," 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.

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.

Murphy also took the opportunity to assure that by the end of the week any arrangements around who can access data via the app would be more defined.

"My understanding is that those arrangements with the state and territories, which are really just about making sure that what we promised the community is that only those people would have access to the data and only in the absolutely secure circumstances, so it's just putting those belts and braces in. My understanding is that they're all going to be resolved this week," he said.

It comes as the federal government introduced legislation to cover a tonne of penalties for the collection and misuse of data collected by its coronavirus trace tracking mobile app.

The legislation [PDF] introduces serious offences relating to COVIDSafe app data, covering the non-permitted collection, use, or disclosure of the data; the uploading of app data without consent; retaining or disclosing uploaded data outside Australia; the decrypting of the encrypted app data; and the parameters around COVIDSafe participation.

Each offence can result in imprisonment for five years or 300 penalty units -- at AU$210 per unit -- or both.