The death toll in mainland China from coronavirus has risen by 81 to 780 in the latest figures, passing the 774 deaths recorded globally during the 2002-2003 pandemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
The international education industry was worth $34 billion to the Australian economy in 2018, up more than 15 per cent over the year.
Mr Tehan said all the contingencies were being put into place as the virus continues to spread but said the next two to three weeks would be crucial in terms of what the impact would be.
“If this can be managed in the short-term, our hope is that we will see a bounce back fairly immediately, that’s what we saw under SARS,” he said.
“There will be no question if the coronavirus continues and we can’t get students here for the first semester, and god forbid we couldn’t get them here for a second semester, that will have a significant economic impact.”
He also warned there were other aspects of the industry that would take a hit, including the student accommodation market and English language tuition providers.
“The hope is we’ll see some sort of breakthrough in the next two to three weeks, especially when it comes to quarantine, but if that doesn’t work we will work with the sector and we will make sure we can rebound when the time arrives,” he said.
“If we need to deal with the impact of the bushfires, if we need to deal with the impact of the coronavirus, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have made it clear that we do want to keep our economy strong and we will invest in those sectors so that we continue to have jobs as an absolute priority.”
Australians who have been evacuated on a Qantas from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the centre of the outbreak, are being held at Christmas Island under a 14-day quarantine to monitor them for signs of coronavirus.
However, there was an alternative offered by the NSW government to have evacuees taken to the RAAF airbase in Richmond and quarantined in hospitals across the state.
Mr Tehan said a “lot of things” were looked at, but said the Richmond airbase was currently operating and that was a major factor in not choosing that site for the plane landing.
“The government considered a number of options and, I think, made the right choice in going to Christmas Island and are now looking at other facilities,” he said.
Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles said on ABC’s Insiders that the containment measures in place to stop the spread of coronavirus could be “costly” to the Australian economy if it played out over a lengthy period.
“But we need to be listening to our experts in relation to this,” he said, admitting he was “worried” about the outbreak.
“If coronavirus turns out to be a significant issue, economically, and when it’s all said and done, and the fires do, it puts into stark relief actually, the complete inaction on the part of this Government in managing the economy before both coronavirus and fires came along,” he said.
Jennifer Duke is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra.