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Coronavirus Could Infect More Than Half The World's Population If Not Contained Soon, Experts Say

As the death toll of coronavirus passes 1,000, a leading expert has warned if it's not controlled soon it could infect up to two-thirds of the world's population.

The World Health Organisation said while the coronavirus may be over in China by April, it's currently the world's biggest threat.

WHO is currently holding a two-day summit in Geneva to fast-track vaccines for the virus that has infected more than 43,000 people worldwide.

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As the death toll increases to more than 900, a Chinese official has warned the deadly respiratory infection can be caught through aerosol transmission.

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Coronavirus Death Toll Soars Past 1000

The death toll from the coronavirus epidemic in mainland China passed 1000 on Tuesday with a record daily rise in fatalities, although the number of new confirmed cases fell.

WHO's Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the epidemic was "an emergency for China... and a grave threat for the rest of the world".

The world must "wake up and consider this enemy virus as public enemy number one," Ghebreyesus told reporters on Tuesday, adding the first vaccine was 18 months away.

Image: Getty

A previous study of the rate the virus is spreading, with those infected passing it on to 2.5 others, suggested 60 to 80 percent of the world's population could be infected, Epidemiologist Professor Gabriel Leung said.

“Is 60-80 percent of the world’s population going to get infected? Maybe not. Maybe this will come in waves."

"Maybe the virus is going to attenuate its lethality because it certainly doesn’t help it if it kills everybody in its path, because it will get killed as well,” he told The Guardian.

A masked shopper wearing a plastic bag is seen outside a supermarket in Wuhan. Image: Getty

Professor Leung, a leading expert in Hong Kong, said if China's extreme containment measures proved successful, other countries should consider adopting them.

The expert is seeking to study whether "these massive public health interventions, social distancing, and mobility restrictions [have] worked in China?”.

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China's foremost medical adviser on the outbreak, Zhong Nanshan, said numbers of new cases were falling in some provinces and forecast the epidemic would peak this month.

"I hope this outbreak or this event may be over in something like April," Zhong, an epidemiologist who played a role in combating an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003, told Reuters.

With AAP

Contact Eden at egillespie@networkten.com.au