Addressing reporters in Canberra, Scott Morrison urged parents to follow the current health advice and send their children to school.

“… the [coronavirus] operates very differently amongst younger people; it has a different manifestation amongst younger people and that presents a very different health challenge to the broader population,” Morrison said.

“And so in terms of the health and welfare of our children, many of us here are parents and obviously we are concerned about the health of our kids, and the health advice that I’m happy to follow for my kids ... is the same health advice I am asking all other parents around the country to follow.

“We all love our kids and there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for them, and I’m telling you that as a father, I’m happy for my kids to go to school. There’s only one reason your kids shouldn’t be going to school and that is if they are unwell, and as parents, you are in the best position to know if your children are unwell.”

Morrison warned that closing schools would have a severe impact on the economy and on the availability of health workers.

“Whatever we do, we’ve got to do for at least six months … so that means the disruption that would occur from the closure of schools around this country, make no mistake, would be severe.

“What do I mean by severe? Tens of thousands of jobs could be lost, if not more. The impact on the availability of health workers – a 30 per cent impact on the availability of health workers is our advice.

“That will put people’s lives at risk, so let’s keep our heads as parents when it comes to this. Let’s do the right thing by the country and each other and follow the proper advice.”

Sydney Catholic Schools yesterday became the first school system in the country to defy government advice and call for a total shutdown of schools.

A number of independent schools around the country have already shut their doors, but every state and territory government has so far resolved that schools stay open.

“There is a national public interest here in keeping schools open and our advice is that this is not being done at the detriment of the health of any child,” Morrison said.

“If that … became different, then premiers and chief ministers and I would certainly come to a different view, but right now that is the advice and we need to ensure that when we’re putting these scalable and sustainable measures in place, that we’re doing things that improve the situation, not worsen the situation and lessen our capacity to deal with this.”

There have now been over 450 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia and five people have died.