Australia’s coronavirus death toll remained relatively low compared to most other countries in Europe and Asia, possibly helped by its low population density, isolation as an island state, and good public healthcare. However, the effect on Australia’s economy was not vastly different from other similar economies. Hardest hit were the hospitality, entertainment, arts, and retail industries, which reported job losses in the hundreds of thousands. As domestic and international travel was restricted, Australians canceled their travel plans en masse, with devastating results for the tourism industry both within the country and abroad. In March, the major travel agency chain Flight Centre announced that 3,800 jobs would be stood down, and in the following month, Virgin Australia Airlines went into voluntary administration.
The Australian government implemented social isolation measures and widespread restrictions on the operations of most food and service businesses from early March. While these measures were widely accepted and complied with by Australians, formal closures of public spaces were required when physical distancing was not observed at some of the more popular beaches in Sydney. As the number of coronavirus cases continued to rise towards the end of March, the states and territories restricted domestic visitors, and testing for the virus increased across the country. By the end of April, these efforts to flatten the curve appeared to have been effective, and the process of relaxing restrictions began.
Although Australia’s social and trading restrictions were not as strict or long-lasting as many other countries, the long-term economic effects were evident early on. The education sector, which earned over 12 billion Australian dollars from Chinese students alone in 2019, began the first semester of 2020 without hundreds of thousands of international students, who were unable to enter the country due to travel restrictions. Panic buying saw an initial rise in sales in March, particularly in groceries and essentials, but retail suffered a never before seen month-on-month fall in sales in the following month. Aside from the reduction in turnover and reduced demand for products, many businesses also reported disruptions to their supply chain. However, some were able to adapt by adjusting their business model or shifting to online platforms, and demand for a small number of services, like home delivery and takeaway, actually increased dramatically.