The rapid global spread of the coronavirus in the past month has quickly changed Australians’ impression of the threat of the illness, the state of the economy, and their general behavioural patterns.

Australians are fast modifying their daily activities and decisions to socially distance, whether personally or government enforced, are here to stay. Correspondingly, in a sign that consumer sentiment is nose-diving, nearly three quarters of Australians (73.1%) are now convinced a recession is headed our way.

The risk of contracting the coronavirus via community infection is affecting how Australians greet one another too. Of those surveyed, 83.7% said they were now greeting people with no contact and only verbally. There are 6.1% who are still game for a hug by way of welcome and just 2.7% who are willing to risk a handshake.

The level of concern around the coronavirus itself has also spiked over the last three weeks with cases jumping from 23 in late February to nearly 300 at the time of publishing.

Nearly 40% of respondents in an EKAS survey of Australians conducted between February 17 and 21 had said that they were not overly concerned about the spread of the virus, and were satisfied with how the government was responding to contain the outbreak. However, the level of concern had risen notably when EKAS asked respondents again four weeks later (between March 12 and 16). 

In February more than half (60.6%) reported being quite concerned (39.9%) or extremely concerned (20.7%) while a third (33.8%) said that they’re not particularly concerned and 5.5% are not concerned at all. Around 65.2% of respondents added that they didn’t believe the virus would spread substantially at that time. 

However, this changed in the March survey, with 68.7% of respondents now either very concerned (21.8%) or quite concerned (46.9%) about the spread of the virus in Australia. 

In terms of the demographic people are most concerned about, it’s the elderly aged over 70 years who are foremost in the thoughts of 62.3% of those polled. Another 27.3% of people said the coronavirus had them concerned about people of all ages. Respondents aged over 75 themselves were considerably more worried about the virus – some 32.1% said they were very concerned about its spread.

The February poll asked respondents which industry sectors would suffer most as a consequence of the outbreak, and 43% anticipated that travel and tourism would be most at risk, followed by the public health (31.2%). Only around a quarter (23%) of respondents said that the economy would be at the highest risk. 

This has proven prescient, with the travel sector taking a beating as governments – Australia included – enforce quarantine periods and close borders to several countries hardest hit by Coronavirus.

The March survey reveals definitively the coronavirus is having a marked impact on those who intended to travel. Out of those surveyed who had some form of travel planned in the near future, a vast number have either postponed (27.9%) or cancelled (14%) domestic or overseas trips. Another 25.2% of respondents said they had been planning a trip overseas or interstate but had abandoned the idea.

The remaining 32.9% of respondents said they will continue their trips as planned. However, new travel bans that came into effect over the weekend may ultimately scupper plans for the more fearless – or perhaps foolhardy – respondents. 

Within Australia, 14.6% of respondents said they would be cancelling plans to take an interstate Easter holiday, while another 16.8% who had planned to travel within their state for the Easter break will be staying home –  a cruel blow to efforts centred around rejuvenating businesses in bushfire affected areas. 

Recent weeks have also seen some dramatic behaviour in the wider community, with many people panic buying supplies and hoarding non-perishable goods. Out of those surveyed, 19.9% confessed that they were stockpiling, with this behaviour largely the preserve of those aged 35 to 44 (28.4%) who were in a couple and/or have children at home.

According to those polled, the highest motivator for bulk buying appears to be in preparation for a two week or longer isolation period (70.2%), followed by a fear of stores running out of staple products (56.5%). 

And of course, there’s the Great Toilet Paper Grab of 2020. When asked about the spike in the purchase of toilet roll, the majority of respondents (66.8%) said this represented the definition of hysteria. Another 19.8% described it as slightly illogical, 11% said it was a little over the top, but logical, while 2.9% of preppers considered it the only logical thing to do in the circumstances.

In terms of gathering in communal space, even before the weekend saw mass crowds of over 500 people kiboshed by the government, respondents to the poll had already largely decided to avoid such spaces. Large festivals (68.5%) are considered no go zones by more than two thirds of people, while ticketed events like concerts were off limits for 61.4% of respondents. 

While over the weekend two large mainstays of NSW events – The Easter Show and Vivid – have been cancelled for 2020, 54% of Australians who would normally have attended the Easter Show identified they would be avoiding it this year over the peak Easter weekend, justifying fears of loss for large scale events even if they were to proceed as usual.  

And in a particularly worrying sign that the economy is in for a battering in the short to medium term, even venues with smaller numbers of people look certain to be shunned by ordinary Australians. Movie theatres (58.9%), shopping malls (49.5%), restaurants and eateries (45.6%), children’s play centres (37.1%) and fast food outlets (32.9%) are all places a notable number of Aussies plan to avoid in the near future.


EKAS Key Findings

–  Some 83.7% of Australians say they are only greeting people verbally at present

–  Just under three quarters of respondents (73.1%) believe a recession is coming on the back of the coronavirus pandemic

–  International and domestic travel is being slashed by consumers. Some 41.9% of respondents have postponed or cancelled a trip within Australia or overseas due to coronavirus

–  Nearly seven in 10 respondents (68.7%) are either very concerned or quite concerned about the spread of coronavirus

–  Over half (61.4%) of Australians are opting to avoid ticketed events irrespective of the 500 people limit for gatherings put in place by the government  

This March EKAS coronavirus survey polled 1174 Australians aged 18+

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Ekas Research
Ekas Research