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'We Are Deeply Concerned': World Health Organisation Declares Coronavirus Outbreak A Global Pandemic

World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

But the organisation says it's not too late for countries to act.

By reversing course and using the charged word "pandemic" it had previously shied away from, the UN health agency appeared to want to shock lethargic countries into pulling out all the stops.

"We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva on Wednesday.

"All countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilise their people in the response.

An Italian health worker wearing protective suit and a face mask walks out one of the tents set up outside the Brescia's Hospital. Image: AAP

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According to the World Health Organisation, a pandemic is declared when a new disease -- which people don't have immunity for -- spreads across the world beyond what is anticipated.

"We are deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction."

Iran and Italy are the new front lines of the battle against the virus that started in China.

"They're suffering but I guarantee you other countries will be in that situation soon," WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan said.

Italy weighed imposing even tighter restrictions on daily life and announced billions in financial relief on Wednesday to cushion economic shocks from the coronavirus.

It was the country's latest effort to adjust to the fast-evolving health crisis that silenced the usually bustling heart of the Catholic faith, St Peter's Square.

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

Iran reported another jump in deaths, by 62 to 354 -- behind only China and Italy.

For most, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough.

But for a few, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illnesses, including pneumonia.

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More than 121,000 people have been infected worldwide and more than 4,300 have died. But the vast majority of people recover.

According to the WHO, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.