World Health Organization has said that the new coronavirus is at a decisive point and has pandemic potential as countries across the globe battled to contain the deadly outbreak.

The comments of WHO head Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus comes as countries around the world battle to prevent the virus spreading further. Saudi Arabia banned pilgrims from visiting Islam's holiest sites as the number of deaths jumped in neighbouring Iran, while Japan and Iraq ordered the closure of schools.

Alarm is also growing as China is no longer the only breeding ground for COVID-19, with other countries including South Korea and Italy becoming hotbeds of infection, raising fears of a pandemic.

The virus has already killed more than 2,760 people, mostly in China  and infected more than 81,000 in over 45 countries. Iran has reported seven new deaths over 24 hours, taking the overall toll to 26, the highest outside China.

World financial markets have plunged on fears that widespread lockdowns could hamper business activity and dent global growth, while sports matches and festivals have been cancelled to try to stem infections.

The EU said it is bracing for an economic hit, with tourism already feeling the pinch and supply chains reliant on China also being affected.

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