Coronavirus: Europe is now epicentre of COVID-19 pandemic, says WHO chief

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TOPSHOT - Hospital workers wearing protective mask and gear work in a patients' triage tent at a temporary emergency structure set up outside the accident and emergency department, where any new arrivals presenting suspect new coronavirus symptoms are being tested, at the Brescia hospital, Lombardy, on March 13, 2020. (Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP) (Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images) (MIGUEL MEDINA via Getty Images)

The head of the World Health Organisation says Europe has now become the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 5,000 people have died worldwide after being diagnosed with COVID-19 , the disease caused by coronavirus.

Speaking during a news conference, WHO boss Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the death toll a "tragic milestone".

Key Points

There have been more than 3,000 virus-related fatalities in China, where the outbreak began late last year and was the previous epicentre, and also more than 1,200 deaths in Italy, which has been put on lockdown to try and curb the spread of the disease.

Italy is the worst-affected nation in Europe and in its most severely-hit region, Lombardy, the number of deaths has reportedly risen from 744 to 890 in a day.

There have also been more than 137,300 confirmed infections in 123 countries and territories, including over 80,000 in China and 15,000 in Italy.

The WHO, which earlier this week officially declared the outbreak a pandemic , said there was a major funding gap for potential coronavirus vaccines.

Dr Tedros said the UN agency was launching a solidarity response plan which will allow people and organisations to contribute money for the coronavirus fight.

He said the cash will be used to buy masks, gloves and gowns for health workers, as well as testing kits and also invest in research and development.

His colleague Dr Mike Ryan said "social distancing" measures - such as people working from home, cancelling large gatherings and closing schools - only slightly slow down the virus so health systems can cope.

He added the measures were not a panacea and were not going to stop the pandemic in its own right.

It comes as a patient in Scotland has died after testing positive for coronavirus - the country's first fatality linked to the virus .

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Their death brings the total number of people with COVID-19 to have died across the UK to 11.

On Friday, the number of confirmed cases in the UK reached 798 - an increase of 208 over the last 24 hours.

In other developments: