The Australian National University faces starting the academic year missing 4000 of its students as a result of the China travel ban.
The university still doesn't know how long the travel ban might last, and has been left scrambling in the dark to make alternative arrangements, which could be announced as early as Friday.
The loss of students will have an impact through the Canberra economy - not only on halls of residence, but also on landlords, retailers and other businesses.
The Australian National University said it has established that about 1000 of its Chinese students are already in Australia, with classes starting in a fortnight. About 4000, or 80 per cent of the cohort, are stuck in China.
The University of Canberra has set up separate accommodation for students already here to stay in isolation to protect others. Interim vice-chancellor Belinda Robinson said 18 students were self-isolating, about half in the separate university accommodation and half in the wider Canberra community.
In all, about 300 of the university's 600 Chinese students are in Canberra, with the university starting earlier than others. Orientation week was this week and classes are due to start next week. The university had been contacting the 300 students still in China over the past few days to arrange online study and other options, but did not yet know how many might pull out.
"That's the anxiety for them," she said. "They don't have a sense as to when they might be able to travel to Australia, so we're working with a number of unknowns."
The longer it's delayed the more likely students are going to be making decisions to defer, or the concern is they may looking at moving to another institution.Canberra Business Chamber interim chief executive Graham Catt
If they could not start next week, the university would continue working with them about how they might catch up, study online, defer or take a break, Ms Robinson said.
"There's a whole range of options available," she said. "This is really all so live at the moment as you can imagine."
Students have until February 24 to finally enrol, and the university is yet to calculate possible financial impact, she said.
The ANU also has no calculations yet as to the economic impact - although international students paid $320 million in fees in 2018.
The ANU said it was exploring online courses and teaching, weekend catch-up classes and lectures, summer and winter intensive courses and allowing students to enrol in an increased study load.
New chancellor Julie Bishop said the impact of the travel ban would depend on the number of Chinese students still able to study and how long the ban remained in place, but the university was offering students "maximum flexibility".
While the travel ban was initially until next weekend, the government has repeatedly warned that travellers could not count on the ban being lifted.
The ANU said it was unable to advise students on what to do about future travel bookings and could only refer them to the Department of Immigration for updates.
Canberra Business Chamber interim chief executive Graham Catt said education was a major part of the city's economy, but it was impossible to calculate the impact of the loss of more than 4000 students given the large number of unknowns.
He said It was unclear how long the ban would be in place, how many students would be able to study online, and how many would pull out altogether.
"That probably is the real kicker," he said.
"If it was a neat exercise in delaying every travel plan and every arrival by two weeks it would probably be easy to work out. But the longer it's delayed the more likely students are going to be making decisions to defer, or the concern is they may looking at moving to another institution."
The fall-out would reverberate through the economy, he said.
"The pile-on together of the impact of smoke and fires and hail, it's another blow in terms of the summer we have just had."
A spokesman for Chief Minister Andrew Barr also said the impact of the loss of students would flow through the economy, but the severity would depend on the length of the ban
The issue would be discussed at the next meeting of the nation's treasurers in April, he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the crisis would "put a real weight on the economy".
"Yes, there will be an economic hit because of the coronavirus, just as there will be as a result of the bushfires. But there will also be a recovery," he said.
"When? Hard to know because there are so many unknowns about the duration of this virus.
"... We expect a hit particularly in this quarter on the coronavirus and how much more it extends beyond that really does depend on how this virus continues to play out at a global level."
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said more than 200,000 Chinese students studied in Australia last year. Another 1.4 million Chinese tourists visited.
Health Minister Greg Hunt told Parliament at 3pm on Thursday the number of cases of the coronavirus stood at 28,261 across 28 countries, with numbers growing rapidly, at 15 to 20 per cent a day. Deaths stood at 565.
"This is a very serious moment," he said.
Australia had 14 confirmed cases, all but one from Wuhan, and the remaining one had been in contact with a Wuhan case.
Australia is now looking for more quarantine centres for when Christmas Island is at capacity. The government has been vague about where, saying it was looking at "Defence and other options", but media reports on Thursday suggested a disused fly-in fly-out camp for miners in Darwin was in the mix.
Christmas Island now has 277 evacuees from Wuhan, with two other evacuees in Perth.
Mr Morrison said he was working on a second flight of Australians from China, who would also go to Christmas Island.
"But it is also true to say right from our initial decision on the first flight that Defence and other options would be considered for overflow facilities if they were required," he said.
"That's being done now."