COVID-19: less interesting than the weather

The internet searching behaviour of Australians suggests fear of and interest in COVID-19 has subsided considerably.

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During the peak in infections there was a lot of searching for symptoms of the virus, terms like “sore throat” and “fever”. Compared with recent history, the volume of searching for such terms far exceeded normal, even for winter, leading ANZ Research to believe the rise was driven by COVID-19 concerns.

"Searching for “coronavirus” is well off its highs and Australians are now more interested in weather forecasts.”

As this search intensity has returned to normal, ANZ Research thinks people are worrying less. Australia’s success in containing the pandemic is likely to be playing a part.

Consistent with this, searching for “coronavirus” is well off its highs and Australians are now more interested in weather forecasts.

With the spread of COVID-19 in Australia under control for now, states have continued to ease restrictions. So far, this has not led to a spike in new cases, despite several indicators suggesting people have been moving about more over the last fortnight.

The pick-up in mobility has been broad based, with even the most restrictive state, Victoria, showing a rise in Melbourne central business district (CBD) foot traffic.

A willingness to go back to normal is also starting to show elsewhere. Restaurants are now allowed in-house dining and people are taking that opportunity.

From being down 100 per cent year-on-year through the lockdown, restaurant bookings are now down around 90 per cent year-on-year.

This headline lift doesn’t capture the total desire to head back to restaurants, however, because most states have previously had a 10-person per venue limit. With states like New South Wales moving to a 50-person limit on 1 June, it will be interesting to see how diners react.

On the tourism front, with regional trips in most states either allowed or soon to be allowed, people are thinking about travelling. Searching for “Melbourne hotels” and “Sydney hotels” lifted quickly in recent weeks.

It also looks like people are heading back to Airbnb, with searches up very sharply.

Sentiment has stabilised in the past two weeks. Combining searches for terms like ‘recession’ and ‘unemployment’ into a single index suggests sentiment is well off the lows and continues to improve.

This is consistent with ANZ Research’s consumer confidence rating. Another positive is that searches for “unemployment benefits” have effectively returned to pre-crisis levels.

Hayden Dimes is Economist and & David Plank is Head of Australian Economics at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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