The consequences of the pandemic for potential output will partly hinge on its impact on productivity-enhancing reallocation. While recessions can accelerate this process, the more ‘random’ nature of the COVID-19 shock coupled with policy responses that prioritised preservation could disrupt productivity-enhancing reallocation. Our analysis based on novel high-frequency employment data for Australia shows that labour reallocation (and firm exit) remained connected to firm productivity over 2020 and 2021. However, outside of the initial acute phase of the shock the relationship weakened significantly compared to history. Australia’s job retention scheme (JobKeeper) initially reinforced the connection between growth and productivity, supporting more productive firms. But it became more distortive over time and as the economy recovered.