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Pandemic grips tighter, but China says its worst is over

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Schools are being shut across Europe, Italy remains under almost total lockdown and a state of emergency has been declared in New York, as the coronavirus pandemic takes hold and the number of cases and deaths continues to rise.

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Latest estimates compiled from national government announcements are that 127,000 people have been infected globally, while over 4700 have died since the virus first emerged in China in December.

The total number of cases in mainland China overnight was reported at 80,793, with 3169 deaths, up by 11 from Tuesday.

Nearly 63,000 people had recovered and been discharged from hospital.

Poland and Greece recorded their first coronavirus deaths overnight, while Italy’s death toll climbed past 1000, with more than 15,000 infections in the worst outbreak outside China.

The Italian government has ordered all shops to shut except food shops, pharmacies, tobacconists and newsagents, with cafes and restaurants – previously allowed to open to customers in the daytime – now restricted to delivery service only.

And in Rome, doors to an estimated 900 Catholic churches are being locked until at least April 3.

Streets and squares outside tourist attractions are largely empty as Italians remain indoors and strict travel bans are enforced on roads and at train stations.

“Italy closes,” said the main front-page headline on newspaper La Repubblica.

Iran has asked for an emergency $US5 billion ($A7.7 billion) loan from the International Monetary Fund to combat the outbreak, which has killed more than 400 and infected over 10,000, with 75 more deaths in 24 hours.

Spain has put four towns under quarantine, while France will shut all creches, schools and universities on Monday after its virus death toll rose to 61.

President Emmanuel Macron urged employers to let staff work from home to help combat what he called the nation’s biggest public health crisis in a century.

Ireland will close all schools and cultural centres from today Friday until March 29 after recording its first death on Wednesday, with 43 infections.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar warned this week that up to 60 per cent of Ireland’s 4.8 million people could contract the virus in coming weeks, and a ban on large gatherings was being considered.

Turkish schools will be closed for one week and universities for three weeks from Monday, and sports events will be held without spectators until the end of April.

Austria will deny entry to people arriving from Italy, ban indoor events of more than 100 people and close schools from next week until April, with the Czech Republic also closing schools and universities.

Ukraine is closing schools and universities in the capital Kiev and will restrict mass events.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency, allowing him to use new powers as the number of confirmed cases rose to 95 cases in the city.

“The last 24 hours have been very, very sobering,” he told at a news conference on Thursday.

“Literally yesterday morning feels like a long time ago.”

He did not immediately issue new rules, but said he supported an announcement by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier on Thursday that banned gatherings of more than 500 people in the state.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie are in self-isolation after she came down with flu-like symptoms and was tested for coronavirus, according to an official statement.

The 48-year-old Liberal leader is exhibiting no symptoms and will continue to work from home until the results of his wife’s test comes in, the statement said.

School has been cancelled in Ontario, as Canada reported 138 confirmed cases, while Carnival’s Princess Cruise lines will halt the operations of its 18 ships for 60 days and the World Trade Organisation’s major biennial meeting, due to be held in Kazakhstan in June, was cancelled.

Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam all reported more confirmed cases, while South Africa recorded its first locally transmitted case.

Beijing’s senior medical officer said the pandemic could be over by June if countries mobilise to fight it, after China declared its peak had passed there and new cases in Hubei province fell to single digits for the first time.

Chinese authorities credit strict measures they have taken, including placing Hubei under near total lockdown, with preventing big outbreaks in other cities, and say other countries should learn from their efforts.

“Broadly speaking, the peak of the epidemic has passed for China,” National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said.

“The increase of new cases is falling,” Zhong Nanshan, the Chinese government’s senior medical adviser, said at a news conference on Thursday that as long as countries take the outbreak seriously and are prepared to take firm measures, it could be over worldwide in a matter of months.

“My advice is calling for all countries to follow WHO instructions and intervene on a national scale,” he said. “If all countries could get mobilised, it could be over by June.”

-with AAP

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