Stocks tumbled on Monday despite emergency central bank measures to prop up the virus-battered global economy, as countries across Europe started the week in lockdown and major US cities shut bars and restaurants.

The virus has upended society around the planet, with governments imposing restrictions rarely seen outside wartime, including the closing of borders, home quarantine orders and the scrapping of public events including major sporting fixtures.

Italy COVID-19 crisis
Italy is the hardest-hit country in Europe Photo: AFP / Tiziana FABI

Leaders from the Group of Seven, the world's richest nations, are due to hold a video summit later Monday on the unprecedented global crisis and EU top brass will be discussing their response on Tuesday.

COVID-19 first emerged in China late last year, but Europe is now the biggest flashpoint and the death toll on the continent surged at the weekend.

Italy COVID-19 crisis
The virus has infected more than 100 countries Photo: AFP / Luis ACOSTA

Worldwide, the number of deaths has jumped to over 6,500 with more than 168,000 infections in 142 countries and the weekend saw a tipping point with a majority of fatalities now outside China.

Italy -- the hardest hit country in Europe -- along with France and Spain all announced their worst one-day tolls on Sunday.

Germany on Monday became the latest European country to impose border controls, while across the continent, shops, schools and many businesses have shut their doors.

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The virus is spreading rapidly Photo: AFP / Simon MALFATTO

With the virus infecting nearly every sector of the global economy, concerns are growing the world will be catapulted into a damaging recession, leading to stock markets enduring losses and wild swings.

The US Federal Reserve attempted to stem the panic with drastic measures, slashing its key interest rate to virtually zero.

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The virus has sparked chaos on financial markets Photo: AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY

"What's happened with the Fed is phenomenal news," said US President Donald Trump, who has come under fire from his political rivals over his response to the pandemic. "I can tell you, I'm very happy."

The Bank of Japan on Monday also announced emergency economic stimulus measures for the world's third-biggest economy, adding to similar efforts by European central banks.

Graphic showing the spread of coronavirus worldwide and the countries with the highest historical caseloads so far, as of March 11. Photo: AFP / John SAEK

But investors remain in panic mode.

European stock markets nosedived in early trading on Monday, with hardest-hit Paris sinking a massive nine percent.

In Asia, Sydney led the region-wide losses, with its main index falling 9.7 percent, its largest-ever percentage drop.

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After suffering its worst session in more than 11 years at the beginning of the week, the Dow Jones Index in New York bounced back significantly, rising five percent Photo: AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY

"The biggest concern has to be that the big G7 central banks have exhausted their policy tool kit, especially the biggest and most influential one of them all, the Fed," said AxiCorp's Stephen Innes.

China provided more evidence of COVID-19's dire economic impact, announcing factory output had contracted for the first time in nearly 30 years.

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Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announces that the country's top-flight football league, along with all sporting events in the country, will be suspended until April 3 as Italy grapples with the coronavirus crisis. Duration:00:44 Photo: AFPTV / Arman SOLDIN

And leading car maker Fiat Chrysler announced it was suspending production across most European plants.

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Curtains close on cultural life in virus-hit New York as Broadway suspends performances for a month in the city's efforts to stem the coronavirus outbreak Photo: AFPTV / Eleonore SENS

Normal life is at a standstill in much of western Europe, with France ordering all non-essential businesses closed and Spain banning people from leaving home except to go to work, get medical care or buy food.

Despite Trump's insistence there is enough food to last through the pandemic, panic-buying has been seen around the world as anxious people stock up on essentials fearing a lengthy period of enforced quarantine.

Larry Grossman, manager at a Manhattan supermarket, said he had never seen anything like it in 40 years.

"I have been through Hurricane Sandy... through 9/11, I have never seen shopping like this," he told AFP as he restocked empty shelves.

In New York and Los Angeles, bars and restaurants have been closed, while several casinos in Las Vegas have shuttered.

In the Netherlands, cannabis smokers aiming to keep calm and carry on queued up outside Dutch "coffee shops" on Sunday after the government ordered their closure.

"For maybe for the next two months, we're not able to get some weed so it should be nice to at least have some in the house," said Jonathan outside a "coffee shop" in The Hague.

There was pandemonium at several airports as travellers scrambled to get home with countries increasingly slamming shut their borders to prevent the virus spreading.

In the US, passengers complained of massive queues as staff battled with new entry rules and stipulations on medical screening, leading some to worry they were exposing themselves to the virus in the crowds.

Joanna, a British student in Cyprus, said she was scrambling to get home, fearful of further restrictions on movement.

"I think if I stayed here and if it was a lockdown, I think I would be really upset, the fact that I could not go home and see my family," she told AFP.

In the sporting world, there is growing opposition to holding the Olympics as planned this summer, and there are also doubts about the European football championships set to take place in 12 countries this year.

However, in China there were continuing signs of improvement, with only four new COVID-19 cases recorded in Wuhan -- where the virus was first detected in December -- although imported cases rose.

And there have been heartwarming scenes around the world as people attempt to lift spirits.

Images of Italians singing from their balconies have also gone viral and the choir of Stockholm's Katarina church decided to livestream their performances online.

"People need something to cling on to, I think, and something to listen to," said chorister Birgitta.

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