The prime minister is rallying Australians to the dramatic action needed to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus, invoking the Anzac spirit as pubs, cinemas, gyms and churches are forced to close around the nation.
However, confusion abounds as to other measures being taken, including the situation with schools and child care.
Scott Morrison addressed a scaled-down House of Representatives on Monday, saying it was understandable people feared the unknown and there was still much not known about the virus.
"So we summon the spirit of the Anzacs, of our Great Depression generation, of those who built the Snowy, of those who won the great peace of World War II and defended Australia," he said.
"For many, young and old, 2020 will be the toughest year of our lives."
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said most Australians only knew stories of war, hunger and financial strife from their grandparents.
"Fear and panic, of course, feed on uncertainty and inconsistency and at the moment those ingredients abound," he told parliament.
"This is a time for national leadership, consistent messages, clear directions."
The prime minister and state and territory leaders agreed late on Sunday night to the first stage of shutdowns of non-essential places where people gather.
From midday Monday, registered and licensed clubs, entertainment venues, cinemas, casinos, nightclubs, indoor sports venues, including gyms, and places of worship will close.
Restaurants and cafes will be restricted to takeaway only.
Mr Morrison said the decision was taken because Australians were not adequately sticking to rules around social distancing.
People should keep at least 1.5m apart and not gather in large numbers.
Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner emphasised that most services were still open.
"Bottle-os are still open. You can still get a beer - God knows we all might need one - but everything else, there are no changes right now," he told reporters.
But leaders will look at further shutdown measures if Australians continue to fail to heed the warnings to keep their distance and stop all non-essential travel and outings.
Virus cases are doubling every three days, with more than 1600 recorded on Monday morning. The death toll remains at seven.
The situation with schools has many parents confused.
The prime minister insists schools remain open, but Victoria and ACT have brought forward school holidays to Tuesday and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has urged parents to keep their children home if possible.
Ms Berejiklian said online education would be in place until the school holidays, scheduled to start at Easter on April 10.
"There won't be a separate class for kids at home, there won't be a separate class for kids at school, there will be one unit of teaching which makes it simple and practical," she told reporters.
The federal government also insists childcare centres should remain open based on medical advice.
But it is moving to increase the number of absent days allowed before a family's childcare subsidy cuts out, up from 42 a year.
It will also keep paying the subsidy to centres that are forced to close, meaning they will still get some income even if parents aren't paying the fee gap, but not if they close voluntarily.
These changes are in legislation parliament will push through on Monday to deliver $99 billion of economic stimulus.
The huge package of support for businesses and households impacted by the coronavirus pandemic is expected to get the parliamentary green light by the end of the day.
The government has flagged a third round of stimulus is likely.
Hundreds of people queued outside Centrelink offices on Monday morning, with people who have never been on welfare before required to front up in person to prove their identity.
Meanwhile, the government services website MyGov has crashed amid unprecedented demand.
Minister Stuart Robert urged people to be patient, while opposition frontbencher Bill Shorten said the increased demand should have been entirely foreseeable.
Australian Associated Press