Europe now 'epicentre' of coronavirus: WHO

The World Health Organisation says the European continent is now the epicentre of the coronavirus

Europe has become the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organisation says.

Addressing a press conference at the organisation's headquarters in Geneva, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that more than 132,000 cases from 123 countries had been reported and there had been more than 5000 deaths.

"Europe has now become the epicentre of the pandemic with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China," Tedros said.

The director-general added that more cases were being reported daily in Europe than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic.

The announcement comes two days after the body declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic following a dramatic surge of cases in Europe.

The virus was first discovered in the central Chinese province of Hubei late last year and has since spread to other parts of Asia, to the Middle East and Europe, and on to the Americas.

The rate of infections has started to slow in China, with just 26 new cases reported on Thursday, but cases continue to explode in Europe, with Italy and Spain the main hotspots.

But while "China has certainly peaked and there is certainly a decline," there remains a chance that the number of infections could rise again, the WHO's Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove warned.

Italy, which has been on a country-wide lockdown since March 9, remains the worst affected country in Europe and outside of China, with more than 15,000 cases, followed by Spain (more than 4300), Germany (3150) and France (at least 2882).

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel also delivered a stark warning on Thursday, predicting that 70 per cent of the population would be infected unless the necessary steps were taken.

Drastic containment measures were being rolled out across the continent, with the Netherlands banning all gatherings of more than 100 people, while Belgium, Poland, Portugal and Ireland have closed all schools for at least two weeks.

Sporting events, including top flight football, across Europe have also been suspended.

Tedros urged authorities to undertake co-ordinated and comprehensive measures to slow the dramatic spread.

"Any country that looks at the experience of other countries with large epidemics and thinks 'that won't happen to us' is making a deadly mistake, it can happen to any country," he said.