Health departments directly treating COVID-19 and high-risk sectors such as aged care, where infection control is critically important, are driving the increase in medical waste generation. The extreme example is in Victoria, which saw a 100-fold increase in clinical waste generation across the aged care sector during certain periods of 2020.
Several themes are apparent in the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on infrastructure sectors. These themes cut across sectors, are interrelated and are sometimes mutually reinforcing.
Digitalisation: There has been a rapid shift from physical to virtual interaction, increasing convenience for users and providers.
- In 2020, monthly online retail growth was five to six times the annual growth seen in 2019
- Nine out of ten Australian firms are adopting new technology, including collaboration tools and cybersecurity
Decentralisation: There has been a redistribution of demand for utilities and an increase in the vibrancy of regional centres.
- People are moving out of the capital cities and dense metro areas to regional areas at a rate 200% higher than pre-COVID-19
- Uptake of solar photovoltaic panels increased, with almost 165,000 systems sold under the small-scale renewable energy scheme in the first half of 2020
Localism: More people are making local trips, and travel is increasing in regional and local areas of each state, creating greater regional vibrancy but placing pressure on infrastructure.
- People are increasing their use of national parks and green spaces, up by close to 25% nationally
- Delivery driver demand is shifting, with significant growth in suburban last-mile trips and loading zone use falling to less than half in the Sydney CBD
Service innovation: Providers of services, including governments and businesses, are innovating to support the changing demand requirements.
- State transport agencies have implemented public transport improvements such as increased cleaning, social distancing initiatives and real-time occupancy data
- The government has funded telehealth, facilitating 17.2 million telehealth consultations (March-June 2020), peaking at c. 40% of funded services in April, up from less than 1% before COVID-19
Adaptability: There has been a rapid repurposing of infrastructure and assets, and a quick scaling up of latent capacity.
- The NBN released an additional 40% of latent broadband capacity to service providers to address network congestion
- Health providers repurposed infrastructure to provide 4,600 new ICU beds, increasing capacity by 290%
The analysis also highlights mutually reinforcing trends, suggesting some stickiness in behaviour. Increasing digitalisation enables decentralisation by making it easier for people to live and work remotely. However, increasing decentralisation will in turn drive greater demand for digitalisation of products to meet the needs of regional residents.
Despite Australia’s very low case rate, almost every category of infrastructure has been impacted by COVID-19, either in terms of overall demand, geographic demand patterns or changing subsector trends. In some cases, trends that were apparent before COVID-19 (e.g. contactless payment) have been accelerated by the pandemic and are unlikely to be reversed. In other cases (e.g. regionalisation), COVID-19 has prompted a U-turn in the underlying trend, and it remains to be seen to what extent behaviour and preferences will return.