Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that the Australian government is advising against non-essential mass gatherings of more than 500 people from Monday March 16 to limit the spread of coronavirus.

"What we're seeking to do is lower the level of overall risk and at the same time ensure that we minimise any broader disruption that is not necessary at this stage," Morrison said in a press conference this afternoon.

"We have literally made these decisions in the last hour. We're making these decisions based on the best expert advice."

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Non-essential mass gatherings include sporting events and festivals. Schools, universities and airports will remain open.

"Parliament is essential. Going to school is essential. Going to work is essential," Morrison said. "All of these things will continue.”

Australia's chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, described the move as a "precautionary measure" and said that the number of in-community transmissions remained low.

"We are getting ahead of the curve – we need to get ahead of the curve," Murphy said.

"[The] way in which [coronavirus] can be spread more rapidly is in very large events. You might only have one or two people at a very large event who might be carrying the virus, and the chance of it being spread from those large events accelerates the rate of progression of this virus."

The announcement followed a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting of state and federal leaders in Sydney earlier today.

More to come.