Europe

World Health Organization declares coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Source: AAP

The World Health Organization has expressed concern over the rapid spread of coronavirus, calling COVID-19 a pandemic.

The new coronavirus outbreak has been characterised as a pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was alarmed by the spread and severity of the outbreak, along with a lack of action taken to combat it.

"COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic," he told reporters in Geneva.

He said he expected the number of cases and deaths would grow in the coming days and weeks.

"We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus," he said.

He also said hard-hit Iran was trying its best to control the outbreak but needed more supplies.

Mr Ghebreyesus said the pandemic could be changed "if countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilise their people in the response."

In Iran, by far the hardest-hit country in the Middle East, the senior vice president Eshaq Jahangiri and two other Cabinet ministers were reported to have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Several countries stepped up containment procedures on Wednesday, with stricter border controls and travel bans from countries where the virus has become widespread.

Hungary became the latest country to ban those coming from Italy from entering, as they declared a state of emergency and suspended university classes claiming there are many foreign students attending.

Croatia halted ferry operations bringing passengers from Italy on Wednesday, with one vessel currently held at Split dock as authorities decide options for passengers onboard.

Germany, however, was quick to dismiss suggestions of border closures or travel bans, saying that they would deal with people coming into the country on a case-by-case basis.

"Border closures are not an adequate answer to the challenges, if you say I come from a region classified as a crisis region then measures should be taken," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

The Czech Republic began containment procedures on Wednesday, closing tourist shops and schools and suspending events and gatherings of more than 100 people in an attempt to stem the spread of the new virus - the country currently has more than 60 confirmed cases of the virus.

The result in the country's capital Prague was empty streets in areas which are usually known for high tourist activity.

Greece also shut all private and state-run schools, universities and kindergartens throughout the country for the next 14 days - as of Tuesday, the country's total stood at 89 cases of the virus.

In Iraq, civil defence staff wearing protective clothing on Wednesday sprayed disinfectant in the public areas effort to combat the new coronavirus outbreak as the country has taken drastic measures to stem the spread, including ordering the closures of schools and universities.

On Thursday morning, there were 124,578 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, of which 66,702 had recovered.

A total of 4,584 people had reportedly died from the pandemic.

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