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COVID-19: The Social impact on city life

"COVID19 measures" related art work posters seen a street wall in Melbourne CBD. (Photo by Alexander Bogatyrev / SOPA Images/Sipa USA) Source: Sipa USA Alexander Bogatyrev / SOPA Image

While the impact of COVID-19 on our health, the economy and our working lives has been profound and well documented, the social impact is only just emerging.In this episode we take a closer look at how the pandemic has affected our cities.

In a weekday afternoon at Sydney's Martin Place train station - there's a handful of people on both platforms.

 Outside, lunchtime crowds move about near Castlereagh Street, which sits at the heart of Sydney's central business district ((CBD)).

 Kathy runs Cafe Roma in the food court, home to about 20 different eateries.

 Like many small hospitality businesses, especially in the CBD, her cafe has been hit hard by the pandemic.

 She says that's because many of her regular customers are only in the office part-time due to COVID. 

Two Australian academics have taken a closer look at data from Google's Community Mobility Reports to try and get some idea of how COVID has affected visitor numbers to Australia's CBDs.

 The report measured foot traffic, that is visitor numbers to CBD retail and recreation places, between February and October, 2020.

 But just because people can work from home doesn't mean everyone wants to -  all of the time.

 Nick is a barrister who has worked from home for much of the year before returning to his office near Martin Place part-time two months ago.

 Enjoying lunch in the food court, he thinks Sydney's CBD is slowly finding its energy again. 


But Patrick, who worked at home full-time until a couple of weeks ago, says the city is not what it used to be.

Paul Maginn is a Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Western Australia and also helped analyse the Google Mobility Reports. 

 He says border closures have also had a major impact on CBD foot traffic.

  Australia Post data found that between March and June this year around 800,000 new households shopped online for the very first time.

 The move to online shopping and the emergence of big suburban malls means the CBD retail sector was already shifting prior to COVID.

 Along with tourists and students, homeless people are often drawn to CBDs.

 That's mainly because support services such as food vans tend to be concentrated there. 

 Sophia is in her 60s and has been homeless for two years.

 She feels safe in the CBD, often taking refuge among the city's crowds and public transport system.

 For health and support measures currently in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in your language, visit


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