Timeline of COVID-19 in Australia: the first year

Deborah Lupton
6 min readAug 13, 2020
Image: Author

As I’ve been working on my COVID-related research projects, I’ve put together a timeline of events relevant to the Australian context to help me remember what happened and when. Here’s the timeline, current as of 31 December 2020 (updated from my original post in August 2020).

31 December 2019

First cases of ‘atypical viral pneumonia of unknown cause’ reported by Wuhan officials

5 January 2020

WHO releases its first Disease Outbreak News report about these cases — pathogen confirmed as a ‘novel coronavirus’

11 January 2020

China reports first death

13 January 2020

Thailand reports first case outside China

21 January 2020

WHO confirms possibility of human-to-human transmission — USA reports first case

23 January 2020

Australian biosecurity officers begin screening arrivals on flights from Wuhan to Sydney

24 January 2020

First European case confirmed by France

25 January 2020

First Australian cases reported (four incoming travellers from China)

30 January 2020

WHO declares a ‘public health emergency of international concern’

11 February 2020

WHO announces that novel coronavirus would be named SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it caused as COVID-19 (a contraction of ‘coronavirus disease 2019’)

27 February 2020

The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, activates the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

1 March 2020

First Australian death from COVID-19 reported: a 78-year-old man who had been evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship

2 March 2020

First Australian cases of community transmission reported (two people, both in NSW)

11 March 2020

WHO officially declares COVID-19 a pandemic

12 March 2020

US actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, both in Australia at the time, announce they are COVID positive and are in isolation

12 March 2020

Prime Minister announces first economic stimulus package announced

Mid-March 2020

Australian government introduces measures to ‘slow the spread’: voluntary self-isolation of all arriving travellers, the implementation of contact tracing and expansion of testing services

Mid-late March 2020

Lockdown restrictions progressively implemented by Australian government to restrict citizens’ movements and reduce their opportunities to gather with other people outside their household. International and national border control measures for some states and territories introduced. Implementation of physical distancing rules

19 March 2020

The Ruby Princess cruise ship discharges 2,700 passengers in Sydney without ensuring that they are COVID free — it is discovered the next day that several passengers had COVID and all passengers are asked to go into self-isolation by the NSW government. By 31 March, at least 440 passengers across Australia had tested positive, with five deaths

20 March 2020

Australia’s borders to all non-residents closed

21 March 2020

Non-essential services and many schools closed from this date

22 March 2020

Second economic stimulus packaged announced, including changes to unemployment benefits (new ‘JobSeeker’ support)

25 March 2020

National COVID-19 Coordination Commission established by Prime Minister Morrison as a strategic advisory board

27 March 2020

All returning residents required to spend two weeks in supervised quarantine

29 March 2020

Safety net package to expand mental health, telehealth services, increased family violence prevention services and food provision services announced

Early April

COVID-19 cases begin falling in Australia

2 April 2020

Free childcare offered by the federal government

15 April 2020

JobKeeper payment legislation to support out-of-work Australians is passed

26 April 2020

COVIDSafe app, designed to help with contact tracing, is released by the federal government

30 April 2020

By this date, a total of 6,753 COVID-19 cases and 91 deaths had been reported in Australia, with a steady decline in cases over the month of April

8 May 2020

As the curve of cases has flattened, Australian government announces three-stage plan to begin easing lockdown restrictions

Mid-May 2020

Easing of lockdown restrictions gradually introduced across Australia

20 June 2020

Restrictions are reinstated in the state of Victoria as new COVID clusters begin to be recorded, in an apparent ‘second wave’ of infection

30 June 2020

By this date, a total of 7,834 COVID-19 cases and 104 deaths have been reported in Australia, with most new cases from Victoria

30 June 2020

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews imposes local lockdowns on ten Melbourne postcodes

4 July 2020

Two additional postcodes are added to the Melbourne lockdown, along with nine public housing towers, whose residents were not allowed to leave the building under any circumstances

7 July 2020

Second period of lockdown is introduced for metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire after 191 new cases are recorded in those areas

2 August 2020

State of disaster is declared for Victoria by Premier Andrews, including the imposition of restrictions such as a nightly curfew, mandatory face coverings in public and the closing of schools and businesses

12 August 2020

At this date, a total of 22,127 COVID-19 cases and 352 deaths had been reported in Australia. The global tally has reached 20 million confirmed cases, with 5 million in the USA alone

13 September 2020

‘Roadmap’ for reducing restrictions in Victoria commences

19 October 2020

Restrictions are significantly eased in Victoria, with further easing on 27 October as case numbers dwindle

26 October 2020

Victoria records zero new cases and deaths for the first time since 9 June

1 November 2020

Australia records zero locally acquired COVID cases for the first time since 9 June

16 November 2020

A small outbreak of cases in Adelaide, South Australia, leads to re-impositions of restrictions and lockdown in that state and closing of borders to South Australians by Queensland, Victorian and Western Australia governments. The outbreak is quickly controlled and restrictions end on 21 November

18 December 2020

The Northern Beaches local government area of Sydney is declared a COVID hotspot due to discovery of a cluster of cases in the suburb of Avalon (total of 28 at this date), resulting in new restrictions and border controls for people living in this area and eventually Greater Sydney

21 December 2020

COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry report tabled to parliament, with strong criticism of how the Victorian government handled their overseas traveller hotel quarantine

24 December 2020

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian imposes greater restrictions, particularly for the northern part of the Northern Beaches (where the Avalon cluster has grown to 104), limiting how residents can celebrate in the festive season

30 December 2020

Three new community acquired cases are identified in Melbourne, linked to a traveller from NSW, while Sydney records further cases outside the Avalon cluster

31 December 2020

The year ends with NSW recording ten new community acquired cases (reaching a total of 144 cases in the Avalon cluster) and Melbourne community acquired cases reaching a total of eight. In response, the Victorian government re-imposes some restrictions in the state, including mandatory mask wearing when inside public places and closing the border with the entire state of NSW again. Western Australia re-introduces a hard border with both Victoria and NSW, while South Australia closes its border to NSW. Household visitors across Greater Sydney are limited to five people and no-one is allowed into Sydney Central Business District on New Year’s Eve. The traditional Sydney Harbour fireworks display goes ahead without crowds viewing them

31 December 2020

By this date, Australia has recorded a total of 28,381 COVID cases and 909 deaths. The most affected state by far is Victoria, with 20,365 cases and 820 deaths, followed by NSW with 4,906 cases and 54 deaths, Queensland with 1,250 cases and 6 deaths, Western Australia with 859 cases and 9 deaths, South Australia with 575 cases and 4 deaths, the Australian Capital Territory with 118 cases and 3 deaths and the Northern Territory with 74 cases and 0 deaths

The global tally reaches 81, 475,053 confirmed COVID cases and 1,798,050 deaths reported to the WHO. The USA has the most confirmed cases (19,346,790), followed by India (10,266,674) and Brazil (7,563,551)


Australian Government Department of Health: Coronavirus (COVID-19) at a glance infographic collection

Australian Government Department of Health: Coronavirus (COVID-19) current situation and case numbers

Australian Bureau of Statistics: Household impacts of COVID-19 survey

Wikipedia: COVID-19 pandemic in Australia

World Health Organization: Timeline: WHO’s COVID-19 response

World Health Organization: WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) dashboard



Deborah Lupton

SHARP Professor and leader of the Vitalities Lab, University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney