The ACT government has declared a public health emergency in response to the spread coronavirus, warning it could remain in place for months.
The emergency was enacted by the Health Minister at 1.11pm Monday for the first time in the territory's history.
The declaration gives ACT chief health officer Kerryn Coleman special powers to take any action or give any direction that may be necessary to keep the community safe.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said while there were only two confirmed cases of the virus in the territory, the government was expecting more in the coming days, weeks and months.
He warned tough decisions would have to be made that affected Canberrans' way of life.
"This is going to last for many, many months," he said.
"If as a nation we are successful in slowing the spread of the virus this means we will be living under these public health emergency conditions for a long period of time.
"I know this is a very sobering reality, but we do need to think very practically about the implications of this virus on our community for the long term."
He said key decisions would be made in collaboration with the national cabinet - comprised of the Prime Minister, state and territory leaders and the chief medical officer - stressing the importance of a nationally consistent response to the virus.
Mr Barr said a total closure of schools in the ACT was not inevitable.
He said once schools were closed they would be very difficult to reopen.
"This is not a decision which will be made today, or made by one jurisdiction going it alone," Mr Barr said.
"There are the obvious flow on implication to the entire operation of society as a result of a decision to close schools."
All gatherings at ACT schools have been cancelled from Monday, including assemblies, sports carnivals and excursions.
All gatherings of more than 500 people have been cancelled as a result of the virus, impacting sports matches and arts events.
Mr Barr said the government had sought advice about how best to manage this year's scheduled territory election.
"Our election is seven months away so we've got a bit of time to adjust to it should we still be in this sort of situation," he said.
"But clearly there would be some things that people would be used to as far as Australian elections that would not be a feature of an election in this current public health environment."
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said legislation would have to be changed to allow the government to enact a public health emergency for longer periods.
Under the current legislation, it has to be extended every five days.
Canberra Health Services CEO Bernadette McDonald said Canberra Hospital had a very detailed pandemic plan that it was building on.
She said the hospital had various stages of intensive care unit capacity it could stand up.
The hospital has access to 69 ventilators if it needed them, Ms McDonald said, noting that not every patient admitted to the unit would require ventilation.
There are 31 ICU beds at Canberra Hospital with work underway to allow capacity to double.
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