Italy surpassed China on Thursday as the country with the most deaths from coronavirus as California, home to more than 39 million people, was placed under lockdown in the most drastic containment measure yet by a US state.

President Donald Trump said meanwhile that the United States is fast-tracking antimalarial drugs for use as a treatment and lashed out at China for not informing the world earlier about the original outbreak.

Empty gondolas in Venice
Gondolas sit empty in Venice's Grand Canal with Italy in lockdown to confront the dire impact of new coronavirus which, in one day, killed 475 more people in the country. Photo: AFP / ANDREA PATTARO

China for its part reported on Friday a second day with no new domestic cases since the virus appeared in the central city of Wuhan in December, before spreading worldwide.

While there was a glimmer of hope in China, several nations tightened their borders and imposed lockdowns, trapping tens of millions of people in their homes.

Coronavirus death toll tops 8,700
Worldwide fatalities from the new coronavirus have topped 8,700 as of March 18, 2020. Photo: AFP / Joseph Prezioso

And the UN chief warned "millions" could die if the virus spreads unchecked around the globe.

World leaders also unleashed nearly a trillion dollars to prop up the teetering global economy, only to see the once-in-a-century pandemic seemingly spiral further out of control.

Soldiers in guard everywhere
From the Channel to the French Riviera, police and soldiers are out in force. Photo: AFP / VALERY HACHE

The death toll soared in Europe as Italy announced another 427 fatalities on Thursday, taking its total to 3,405, according to a tally compiled by AFP from official sources.

China has officially reported 3,245 deaths from the virus, which can cause respiratory failure, particularly in the elderly.

Airport employee wears mask
An airport employee wears a face mask as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus at the O.R. Tambo international airport in Johannesburg. Photo: AFP / Luca Sola

France reported 108 more deaths over the last 24 hours, bringing the total number to 372.

Globally, the death toll from the virus has risen to over 9,800 with more than 232,650 cases in 158 countries and territories, according to the AFP tally.

Hotel staff check temperature of cricketer
A member of hotel staff wearing a facemask amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus checks the temperature of South African cricket player Faf du Plessis upon his arrival at a hotel in Kolkata. Photo: AFP / Dibyangshu SARKAR

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Thursday of the virus's potentially devastating effects.

"If we let the virus spread like wildfire -- especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world -- it would kill millions of people," Guterres said.

Italy is the hardest-hit in Europe
Italy is the hardest-hit country in Europe. Photo: AFP / Tiziana FABI

The number of infections and deaths in the rest of the world has surpassed those in China, which appears to have staunched the virus with strict measures including a complete quarantine of Wuhan since January.

Confirmed virus cases in the country
Countries and territories with confirmed new coronavirus cases and deaths, as of March 18 at 1700 GMT. Photo: AFP / Simon MALFATTO

Trump, who has come under fire for his response to the crisis, charged Thursday that the world was paying for China's lack of transparency about the outbreak there.

"It could have been contained to that one area of China where it started. And certainly the world is paying a big price for what they did," he said.

The quarantine situation is tough for drivers
For Emanuele ZappalÃ, a Deliveroo driver in Rome, the current quarantine is a 'difficult period too', but he admits that seeing a family be cheered up by the on-time delivery of a Tiramisu makes him 'happy'. Photo: AFPTV / Marc Henri MAISONHAUTE

Trump said US authorities were fast-tracking antimalarials chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for use as a coronavirus treatment, making them available "almost immediately."

The drugs are synthetic forms of quinine, which has been used to treat malaria for centuries.

Flags of countries affected by the virus
Flags of some countries affected by the coronavirus are projected onto the statue of the Christ Redeemer atop Corcovado hill in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: AFP / FLORIAN PLANCHEUR

As the toll surged in Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the national lockdown, which has been copied around Europe, would be prolonged to April 3.

France also mooted extending its two-week lockdown ordered this week by President Emmanuel Macron, as the interior minister blasted "idiots" who flout home confinement rules and put others at risk.

A Fransiscan friar in Jerusalem
A Fransiscan friar stops in front of closed shops in the Old City of Jerusalem after Israel imposed tight restrictions to contain COVID-19. Photo: AFP / Emmanuel DUNAND

In Argentina, President Alberto Fernandez announced a "preventative and compulsory" lockdown from Friday to March 31, while Brazil's Rio de Janeiro state will close its famed beaches as well as restaurants and bars for 15 days to try to contain the pandemic.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said the state's lockdown would begin Thursday evening in a "recognition of our interdependence."

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country could "turn the tide" on coronavirus within 12 weeks -- but only if people heed advice to avoid social contact.

The disease continued to hit high-profile figures with EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, Monaco's Prince Albert II and at least a half-dozen NBA players in the United States among those testing positive.

Also falling victim to the pandemic was the G7 summit in June, which was meant to be hosted by Trump at the Camp David presidential retreat near Washington. The group of seven wealthy democracies will now meet via videoconference.

With countries paralysed by the pandemic and stock markets imploding, policymakers this week unleashed a wave of measures to shore up the global economy.

The European Central Bank announced a 750-billion-euro bond-buying scheme, dubbed the "big bazooka."

In the United States, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urged Congress to pass a $1-trillion emergency stimulus package.

Wall Street finished higher Thursday following a volatile session as investors weighed the government stimulus measures against some of the first data pointing to a sharp US economic slowdown.

European stocks staged a rebound on the stimulus news, although Asian markets took another beating.

The battle is only just beginning across the rest of the world, with the shadow of the virus lengthening across Africa.

The Nigerian mega-city of Lagos announced it would shut its schools while Burkina Faso confirmed the first death in sub-Saharan Africa.

Russia reported its first death and even the Pacific nation of Fiji said it had its first case.

Countries are taking increasingly drastic steps to stem infections, with Australia and New Zealand banning non-residents from arriving.

The United States warned against international travel due to the pandemic and advised citizens to come home if possible.

Upgrading its travel alert to the highest possible level, the State Department said Americans who do not return "should be prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period."

Britain closed dozens of London Underground stations and shut down schools.

The EU closed its borders to outsiders and in many countries bars, restaurants and most shops have closed their doors until further notice. Spain, which is on a near-total lockdown, on Thursday ordered all hotels to close immediately.

The virus also continues to hit cultural events such as the Cannes film festival, which has been postponed from May until at least late June.

And in sports Greece handed over the Olympic flame to Tokyo 2020 organisers at a closed-door ceremony, while English football extended its shutdown until at least April 30.

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