Australia’s coronavirus death toll has remained low compared to most other countries in Europe and Asia, possibly helped by its low population density, isolation as an island nation, 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 2020, 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. While tourism was arguably the hardest hit, entertainment and brick-and-mortar retail also suffered a significant loss of business.
The first waveFrom early March 2020, the Australian government implemented social isolation measures and widespread restrictions on the operations of most food and service businesses. This was followed by temporary closures of public spaces like beaches and popular meeting places. 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 until the winter set in.
The second waveFollowing Australia’s first wave of coronavirus cases, the island nation was on track as one of the world’s coronavirus success stories, much like its neighboring New Zealand. Australia and New Zealand had even begun discussing the possibilities of a “trans-Tasmin travel bubble” whereby residents of both countries could travel between the two nations without undergoing mandatory quarantine. However, these plans were soon put on hold when COVID-19 cases in Victoria began to rise again in June 2020. Following this increase in cases, Australia experienced a second wave of infections that would prove to be more devastating than the last, with a higher rate of locally transmitted infections and significantly more deaths. State borders were once again closed, and the Victorian government implemented stage four lockdown restrictions in Melbourne and stage three in the rest of the state. Since the second wave outbreak in mid to late 2020, subsequent outbreaks sparked periodic lockdowns until a major outbreak in June 2021 involving the Delta variant of the virus in New South Wales cast Australia’s “COVID zero” strategy into doubt.
Beyond COVID zeroDespite strict border controls and mandatory hotel quarantine for travelers, uncontained outbreaks in the second half of 2021 sent Australia into its third wave and hailed the end of the COVID zero policy. Australia’s new strategy saw a shift in focus from containment to vaccination. In the new national plan to transition Australia’s national COVID-19 response there would be greater freedoms for vaccinated persons and the relaxing of border restrictions once 80 percent of the population were vaccinated. Although some Australians expressed concern about the potential side effects of the coronavirus vaccines, the 80 percent target was reached later in 2021.
With vaccination targets reached, Australia progressively relaxed domestic and interstate travel restrictions and reopened international borders to vaccinated tourists and visa holders at the end of February 2022. As of July 2022, travelers did not need to prove that they had been vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter the country. With new, less stringent COVID-19 management strategies in place, Australia recorded millions of new cases and thousands of deaths, for which the Omicron variant was largely responsible. However, after almost two years of restrictions and lockdowns, the public and the economy saw significant shifts amid Australia’s post-pandemic recovery throughout 2022.