THE Omicron outbreak has emptied Sydney’s CBD with the number of people dining and shopping in the city plummeting over 40 per cent.
Its recovery may hinge on whether employers can entice their workers out of the house and back to the office, according to the city’s peak business network.
New Google data has revealed the number of people in workplaces across City of Sydney was down 23 per cent from its prepandemic baseline as of January 23. The data, which is collated by tracking movement through apps such as Google Maps, also showed retail, hospitality and recreation visitation was down 42 per cent and public transport use down 51 per cent.
Foot traffic in the city is now at a similar level seen just after Sydney emerged from lockdown in October last year.
“With the Omicron outbreak and the NSW Government extending its health orders, we probably won’t see a large number of people come back to the city,” Business Sydney executive director Paul Nicolaou said.
“Businesses are seeing a slow drip of people but that probably won’t pick up until the end of February when the government reviews its health orders again.”
Demand for office space has taken a nosedive since the onset of Covid-19 and the drop in inner-city workers has had a devastating flow-on effect. Commercial property vacancies had also spiked, said chief executive at Laing and Simmons, Leanne Pilkington.
“Just walking through the city and driving down some of the high streets you can see it,” Ms Pilkington said.
“There are signs in windows and bars and cafes have closed.”
Ms Pilkington said demand for office space was likely to increase after Omicron, but not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels.
“There will be a much higher level of flexibility in allowing people to work from home and a lot of people I have spoken to have said they will continue to work from home on an ongoing basis,” she said.
Mr Nicolaou said while some employees were fatigued by working from home, culture adjustments may be needed to lure others back to the office.
“If businesses don’t show some flexibility they’re going to lose staff,” he said.
“Anything that will engage staff in the workplace is very important, whether it’s free coffee or more breakout spaces.
“Another example might be businesses having petfriendly spaces for people who bought a dog during Covid and don’t want to leave it at home.”
He also called on the government amend its mandate to allow office workers to remove masks if vaccinated and seated at their desks 1.5 metres apart.