The dashed plans will be a blow to retail and hospitality businesses in the CBD that have been starved of customers without office workers or international tourists.
Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said the government’s response was appropriate but it was disappointing to delay the staggered return to work.
“Nobody wants to see a third wave and we certainly don’t want to see the state shut down across the board,” Mr Guerra said.
But he hoped, depending on the test results of close contacts, that the delays would only be short-lived.
“I would say, as short as possible but as long as necessary.”
Mr Guerra said the biggest impact would be the immediate reintroduction of masks indoors, which has been a major deterrent for employees considering a return to the office.
“It’s difficult for people on the phone, it’s difficult to have open conversations with the mask on and if you can work from home without the mask on, most people are preferring to do that,” Mr Guerra said.
Workers have been slowly returning to offices and Mr Guerra said the reinstated mask mandate would put a dent in that.
Speaking on ABC NewsRadio earlier on Thursday, Mr Guerra said “it is what it is”.
Lord mayor Sally Capp has been pushing to get workers back into the CBD to “help sustain thousands of businesses in the city centre” but said delaying the increase in workplace capacity made sense.
“It is disappointing, but understandable, that the increase to 75 per cent of the workforce returning has been delayed. We all hope it is a very short temporary measure,” Cr Capp said.
“We want workers to return to the office as soon as possible but it has to be done safely. We will be monitoring the situation closely and liaising with the Victorian government on the return to workplace plans.”
Masks were also made mandatory once again for Victorian teachers and secondary students.
Education Minister James Merlino said teachers would not need to wear masks while teaching, but they should wear masks at all other times while indoors.
The news was accepted with resignation by students and teachers.
“We just groaned, here we go again,” Cathedral College Wangaratta teacher Margaret Hickey said.
“The students are being very stoic and are really quite resigned at this stage. They’re really resilient.”
Suzanne Cory High School principal Colin Axup said students had grown used to always carrying a mask with them.
“It was seamless, they’ve taken it in their stride today,” he said.
“In comparison to what they dealt with last year, this is very minor at this point.”
Sue Bell, president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, said there was no confusion at school drop-off and that the department had communicated quickly and clearly.
“The teachers are used to this and will just roll with the punches,” she said.
Ms Bell said schools had kept stockpiles of disposable masks at the ready.
Wednesday night’s announcement followed the diagnosis of a 26-year-old man who worked at the Grand Hyatt, an Australian Open quarantine hotel, after Victoria recorded its 28th day without a local case of COVID-19.
Contact tracers rushed to test his close contacts and identify exposure sites on Wednesday night.
Rachel is a city reporter for The Age.
Anna is an education reporter at The Age.