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Slowing the spread of coronavirus

Government agencies must continue to deliver for the Government and the Australian community.

This is particularly important in these unprecedented times and agencies must contribute to national efforts to reduce the risk associated with COVID-19 and protect the vulnerable members of our community.

The principle current national objective is to slow the outbreak in Australia by taking measures to reduce transmission.

The purpose of this advice is to articulate our intent regarding social distancing and transmission reduction practices. This is critical in the control of the COVID-19 pandemic. The health and safety of our people and their families remain our highest priority.

Agencies should use this document to inform decision making on how best to manage their workforce. It is recommended that any advice agencies provide is consistent with the advice below, which is based on the best evidence available at this time, and will be updated as required.

This advice is to be used in conjunction with Business Continuity Plans which have identified critical functions and associated workforce.

Update 25 March

On 20 March, the Prime Minister announced that non-essential indoor venues should have a maximum occupancy of one person per four square metres. This does not apply in office buildings, however agencies should consider the best way to allow for social distancing within their workplace. For example, agencies could assess the enclosed meeting spaces and the need to consider a maximum occupancy of no more than one person per four square metres and communicate this to employees with “maximum occupancy X people” signs in each meeting room.

Social distancing principles

Individual behaviour is understood to be crucial to control the spread of COVID-19. Early self-isolation, seeking medical advice remotely (unless symptoms are severe) and personal social distancing are key. Social distancing helps slow the spread of viruses such as COVID-19.

The current recommendations are designed to reduce droplet transmission between people, and minimise the number of people who may require isolation. It may also reduce unnecessary testing.

  • Wherever possible, keep a distance of at least 1.5 metres (m) between people
  • Spend less than 15 minutes of face-to-face contact when the distance is less than 1.5m
  • Spend less than 2 hours with others in any closed space, at a distance of at least 1.5m

Implementing these measures early will assist to slow the spread of COVID-19 from local clusters to other areas.

Personnel who are in these at higher risk of severe disease categories (such as eg those with a chronic illness, the elderly or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people) should seek personalised advice from their healthcare provider on how best to manage their health risks during this time. Agencies should take into consideration these recommendations when making workplace arrangements.

Actions for individuals to reduce exposures and stay healthy

While most people will only experience mild to moderate illness, some will experience severe disease, requiring admission to hospital and in some cases, intensive care. In times of high transmission, the most effective preventive strategies are simple social and hygiene behaviours which will also protect against other communicable diseases such as influenza. People should:

  • Wash their hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds, before and after eating, and after going to the toilet. Make sure hands are dried well afterwards
  • Alcohol based hand rub may also be used if there are no washing facilities and the hands are not visibly soiled
  • Cover their cough and sneeze with the crook of your elbow or a disposable tissue, dispose of tissues, and then wash or sanitise their hands
  • Stop shaking hands or kissing as a greeting.
  • Avoid touching their face with unwashed hands.
  • Stay at home if they are unwell
  • Get vaccinated for influenza; and
  • Avoid crowds where possible.

Surgical masks in the community are only helpful when worn by people infected with coronavirus disease to prevent them from spreading it to others. If you are well, you do not need to wear a surgical mask as there is little evidence supporting the widespread use of surgical masks by healthy people to prevent infection.

Actions for the workplace

Agencies should ensure social distancing principles are adhered to in determining the optimal workplace arrangements. The primary objective is to maintain the workforce in the current workplace as much as possible.

  • Reconsider the need for face-to-face meetings and training.
  • Use teleconferencing if possible.
  • If meetings are considered essential, minimise the number of people in physical attendance.
  • Consider reducing the maximum capacity of meeting rooms to no more than one person per four square metres, including communicating the maximum capacity to employees with “maximum occupancy X people” signs in each meeting room.
  • Keep meetings under two hours, and make sure the room is large enough to accommodate 1.5m in-between each person.
  • Consider alternative venues, such as outdoor venues.
  • Provide and promote sanitisers for use on entering buildings.
  • Reconsider the concurrent attendance of multiple staff from core skill groups at the same event to preserve the continuity of critical functions.

Work hours and flexible work arrangements:

  • Traditional working hours may be difficult to sustain during this phase, and work should be arranged to outcomes, not to set work hours.
  • Consider the types of work that can be conducted from home. 

Workstation arrangements:

  • Workstations are to be positioned so that people are at least 1.5m apart.
  • If less than 1.5m apart, alternative measures need to be implemented, including staggering work times and alternative working arrangements (such as working from home).
  • In more confined work spaces, supervisors must make every effort to meet the intent of the social distancing principles, and conduct a risk assessment if they are unable to meet them.
  • The presence of physical barriers between desks that are close together (eg partitions will sufficiently reduce the risk of droplet spread where desks are less than 1.5m apart).


  • Agencies should, where possible, increase the frequency of cleaning of communal areas to daily, as well as supply extra cleaning products to work areas.
  • Clean and disinfect high touch services regularly.

Lifts (elevators):

  • It is safe for employees to use lifts as the time spent in a lift is minimal. Lifts should be cleaned and disinfected regularly.

Travel arrangements:

  • Consider staggering start and finish times to avoid peak travel times and consider alternative work arrangements if public transport is affected.

ICT systems:

  • Consider the sustainability of IT systems when implementing alternate work arrangements.
  • Be aware of your agency’s device access and teleconferencing capabilities.    

Actions for managing critical functions

More stringent containment measures may be considered to ensure the workforce delivering critical functions is preserved. Continuity plans for managing personnel who perform these functions will identify specific measures such as:

  • Enabling some personnel/groups not to attend meetings in person, especially individuals with specific skill-sets or those in critical appointments, for whom even a two week isolation period would compromise strategic objectives.
  • Dispersing critical work functions across multiple locations.
  • Identifying alternative personnel who can deliver the function.
  • Enabling critical personnel to work from home, if possible.

Actions for travel

Agencies should follow advice from DFAT.

All non-essential travel (both domestic and international) should be cancelled.

Actions for events and gatherings

Public gatherings may result in large numbers of people being in close contact for extended periods of time and can contribute to the transmission. Agencies should consider the risks to an individual and their circumstances when making decisions to proceed with an event, or otherwise to restrict, modify, postpone or cancel the event. This includes participation in conferences and social events.


Last reviewed: 
26 March 2020