The Ruby Princess cruise ship. (Image: AAP/Dean Lewins)

January 25, 2020

A Chinese national who had arrived in Melbourne on January 19 is the first person to test positive for a mysterious new coronavirus originating in the city of Wuhan, in central China. In the preceding days, China confirmed the virus could spread between people, a week after the World Health Organization suggested there was no evidence for this. The virus has begun to spread into Europe and the United States. By the end of the day, there are three positive cases in Sydney.

“There is no reason for alarm in the general community,” then Victorian health minister Jenny Mikakos says.

February 1

Australians are advised not to travel to China, where 258 people have died. Foreign nationals who have been in China will not be able to enter Australia for 14 days from the time they left. Airlines cancel flights to and from China, and the government looks into evacuating Australians stuck in locked-down Wuhan.

February 11

The mystery virus now has an official name: COVID-19.

March 1

A 78 year old in Perth becomes the first Australian to die from COVID-19.

March 2

Australia records its first cases of local community transmission when two people in Sydney contract the virus without leaving the country.

March 13

On Friday, March 13, the virus starts to feel very real. Days earlier, the WHO finally declared a global pandemic. The government creates a national cabinet of state and territory premiers in a crisis council not seen since World War II. Its first recommendation is to ban mass gatherings of more than 500 people.

That weekend’s Formula 1 Grand Prix in Melbourne is cancelled at the 11th hour. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, meanwhile, is initially adamant he’ll attend a rugby league game on the Saturday night: “The fact that I would still be going on Saturday speaks not just to my passion for my beloved Sharks. It might be the last game I get to go to for a long time.”

By night, he’s no longer attending. Meanwhile Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton tests positive for the virus, the day after Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson announce they have COVID and are isolating on the Gold Coast.

March 18

As cases continue to rise, the federal government declares a human biosecurity emergency, giving the health minister broad powers to restrict the movement of people.

March 19

The Ruby Princess cruise ship docks in Sydney and 2700 passengers are allowed to disembark and travel across the country and the world. In the following weeks, more than 600 passengers in Australia and around the world will test positive, and 28 will die. By April, one in 10 cases of COVID in Australia is linked to the ship.

March 20

Non-residents are banned from entering Australia.

March 22

The government effectively doubles the rate of JobSeeker payments (formerly Newstart) for six months. Pubs, clubs, gyms and theatres are set to close; restaurants and cafes reduce to takeaway only.

March 23

As restrictions kick in and businesses shed workers, there are queues around the block outside Centrelink offices. The MyGov website crashes.

March 27

National cabinet announces that returning travellers must spend 14 days isolating in designated quarantine hotels. Australian Defence Force personnel are enlisted to help manage quarantine hotels. In Victoria, the government uses private security guards, a decision which will come back to bite.

March 30

Australia is effectively in lockdown. Throughout the preceding week, restrictions are tightened. Gatherings are restricted to two people. In most states, people cannot leave home unless it is for one of a few specified reasons, including essential work, shopping and exercise.

The JobKeeper program is unveiled, a wage subsidy where businesses are effectively paid to keep workers on the books. The scheme saves many jobs, but is criticised for leaving specific sectors, such as universities and the arts, out in the cold.

April 11

A coronavirus outbreak begins at Newmarch House, a nursing home in Sydney’s west; 19 die.

With much of the country shut down and international arrivals quarantined, the coronavirus curve slowly begins to bend and flatten.

May 1

Morrison says Australians can have an “early mark” and eased restrictions could be brought forward. Many in South Australia are confused because the very obvious phrase doesn’t exist over there.

May 8

Morrison and chief health officer Professor Brendan Murphy announce a three-stage roadmap to relative normal, with just 1000 active cases. First stage: cafes and restaurants can open in limited capacity, and people can have up to five in their houses. Each state can move at its own pace.

June 6

The killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man by white police officers in Minneapolis on May 25, kicks off protests for racial justice around the world. Thousands rally across Australia, although politicians, police and conservative media urge them not to. In NSW, the police go to court to stop the rally, but organisers win their appeal for it to go ahead.

There is no transmission of COVID at any rallies.

June 20

Victoria records 25 new cases, which are mostly through community transmission. Premier Daniel Andrews reintroduces restrictions, limiting gatherings in homes to five people. Most cases have come through family gatherings, and it becomes apparent that a failure to communicate effectively with migrant communities allowed the virus to spread.

In Western Australia things are set to return to normal.

June 30

As cases continue to rise in Melbourne, Andrews puts 10 postcodes into lockdown. He reveals many of the new cases are linked to breaches in hotel quarantine from late May and early June.

July 4

The spread is getting out of control in Melbourne suburbs. With 108 cases recorded overnight, the government hastily places 3000 residents of nine public housing towers into a complete lockdown with almost no warning. Armies of local volunteers show up to provide food and medicine.

In December, the Victorian ombudsman would find the tower lockdown breached residents’ human rights.

July 7

Andrews puts Melbourne back into a six-week lockdown after Victoria records 191 new cases. Restaurants, cafes and bars are again takeaway only.

“We know we are on the cusp of something very, very bad if we don’t take these steps today,” Andrews says.

July 8

The border between NSW and Victoria closes.

July 19

Cases continue to climb in Victoria — with 363 recorded overnight, Andrews makes face coverings mandatory in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire.

August 2

Cases in Melbourne keep rising. Andrews declares a “state of disaster” and puts the city under one of the harshest lockdowns in the world.

There is now a curfew from 8pm to 5am. People can travel only within five kilometres of home, and can exercise alone for one hour a day. Shopping is limited to one person per household for no more than an hour. Schools, universities and TAFEs return to remote learning.

The state still has 760 active cases with no known source. Much of this spread is linked to insecure, casual workplaces such as abattoirs, factories and aged care, where people can’t afford to stay at home.

August 5

Victoria records 725 new cases, the most in a day in Australia. A man in his 30s is the youngest person to die.

In NSW, Premier Gladys Berejiklian announces anyone crossing the border from Victoria must go into hotel quarantine. Sydney has dealt with clusters linked to the Crossroads Hotel and Thai Rock restaurant. These are eventually reined in.

August 19

The federal government announces a letter of intent with AstraZeneca to get doses of the promising Oxford vaccine candidate. Labor accuses the government of moving far too slowly.

September 2 2020

Australia officially enters a technical recession for the first time in nearly 30 years, after GDP falls 7% in the June quarter.

September 6

As the curve starts to flatten, Victoria releases a five-step roadmap for easing restrictions. But there’s no relief for Melburnians: stay at home orders and restrictions keep people within five kilometres of their home remain until October, and the curfew stays.

September 25

Victoria’s health minister Jenny Mikakos resigns after Andrews’ testimony at the judicial inquiry into hotel quarantine indicates she was accountable for the poorly managed program.

October 6

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg unveils the budget with a record $213.7 billion deficit. There’s good stuff in it for young apprentice workers, farmers and the gas sector, but little for older unemployed people and women.

October 26

Doughnut day in Victoria. It records no new cases for the first time since June. Andrews announces the 112-day lockdown will lift and cafes, restaurants and pubs will reopen.

November 21

Five days after South Australia introduces a snap lockdown in Adelaide in response to an outbreak of cases, restrictions are eased after it is revealed a pizza shop worker misled contact tracers.

November 27

Victoria effectively eliminates COVID-19, after going 28 days without a single case of community transmission.

December 11

The government cancels a deal with the University of Queensland to buy its vaccine candidate after trial participants received HIV false positives.

December 13

A parliamentary inquiry confirms that failures in Victoria’s contact tracing system helped unleash the second wave. Its outdated, centralised health system was swamped, and an inability to test, trace and isolate people meant it had little choice but to pursue a hard lockdown.

December 16

Hopes of a COVID-free summer are dashed when a cluster emerges from nowhere on Sydney’s northern beaches. Three days later Berejiklian introduces a localised lockdown and residents must stay at home.

December 21

A judicial inquiry into Melbourne’s bungled hotel quarantine program releases its final report. It finds confusion over who was in charge of key elements. It can’t pin the decision to use private security guards on anyone, but notes that when guards were used they were poorly trained.

December 30

Right before New Year’s Eve, Victoria’s 61-day streak of zero community transmission ends. Three cases linked to Sydney’s northern beaches outbreak are detected.

December 31

For residents of Sydney’s northern beaches restrictions remain in place. A testing blitz across Sydney keeps the cluster at bay, but New Year’s Eve fireworks proceed with almost no crowds, and household gatherings are limited to five people.

Victorian Acting Premier Jacinta Allan announces the border will close to NSW from January 2, leaving thousands scrambling to make it across in time. Many remain stuck in limbo through January.

January 2, 2021

Berejiklian mandates face masks in indoor settings. Nevertheless, outbreaks in Sydney look to be getting under control.

January 8

After a hotel quarantine worker in Brisbane tests positive for a highly infectious strain of the virus identified in the UK, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk puts the city into a three-day weekend lockdown.

January 25

Exactly one year on since Australia’s first coronavirus case, the Pfizer vaccine is granted approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

January 28

Australia has gone 11 days without a single case of community transmission. NSW is set ease restrictions on household gatherings.

More than 100 million people have been infected globally and more than 2 million have died.