Travellers from Britain, which recently left the European Union will not be affected by the US travel suspension that was announced by US President Donald Trump due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus pandemic, on Wednesday. England's top-flight football league saw its first cancellation, with Wednesday's match between Arsenal and Manchester City postponed.

Donald Trump announced a 30-day ban on travellers from mainland Europe Wednesday as the continent reeled from the coronavirus pandemic that has emptied streets, shuttered shops and disrupted travel for millions.

The edict came amid signs of a widening European crisis, as Italy clocked more than 2,300 new cases in 24 hours and infections in Spain jumped by a quarter to more than 2,100.

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

Ireland, Albania, Belgium, Sweden and Bulgaria registered their first deaths Wednesday, bringing Europe's total to 930, from more than 22,000 infections.

Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump addresses the nation from the Oval Office about the widening novel coronavirus crisis. Photo: POOL / Doug Mills

"This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history," Trump said in a primetime television address from the Oval Office -- his latest attempt to counter criticism of his response so far. The president said the ban would come into effect from "midnight Friday".

He then said "these prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things."

The White House afterwards clarified that "the people transporting goods will not be admitted into the country, but the goods will be."

And Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary at the Homeland Security Department, went on Twitter to reassure Americans that the ban on travel from Europe wouldn't apply to "citizens or legal permanent residents or their families."

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

Trump briefly caused alarm as he announced that the "tremendous amount of trade and cargo" from Europe would also be banned, forcing officials to clarify that the measures would apply only to humans, not goods or cargo.

The number of coronavirus disease cases across the globe has risen to more than 124,000 with 4,500 deaths, after a jump in fatalities particularly in Iran and Italy, according to an AFP tally.

Coronavirus is spreading rapidly
The virus is spreading rapidly. Photo: AFP / Simon MALFATTO

The World Health Organization designated the outbreak as a pandemic on Wednesday, warning that the spread and severity of the illness was due to "alarming levels of inaction."

Trump said European nations had seen more cases than the US because governments had failed to stop travel from China, where the COVID-19 epidemic began, while the US had enacted an early ban.

In reality, experts believe the American figures are artificially depressed by a catastrophic delay in rolling out testing in the initial weeks of the outbreak.

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

The United States is orders of magnitude behind South Korea in the number of tests it has carried out, despite both countries registering their first case on the same day.

Countries and territories worst hit by coronavirus
Graphic showing the spread of coronavirus worldwide and the countries with the highest historical caseloads so far, as of March 11. Photo: AFP / John SAEKI

Johns Hopkins University's coronavirus tracker put the number of known US cases at around 1,300, with 36 dead.

The US got its biggest sign yet of the urgency of the crisis when the New York city government formed a containment zone around a suburb at the center of an outbreak.

Dow Jones bounces back in New York
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

Wall Street stocks suffered another brutal rout Wednesday, pushing the Dow into a "bear market," or 20 percent from its peak, after the latest series of event cancelations and company warnings rattled investors.

The pandemic claimed one of its highest profile casualties as Hollywood star Tom Hanks, 63, said he and his wife Rita Wilson had both tested positive after coming down with fever in Australia.

"To play things right, as is needed in the world right now, we were tested for the coronavirus, and were found to be positive," he said in a statement posted to social media.

Italian Prime Minister suspends major sports events
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

The majority of cases have been in China, where the outbreak emerged in December, but as the number of new infections has steadied, hotspots have emerged elsewhere -- namely Italy, Iran and Spain.

"We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, adding that its new designation would not change the organization's response to the outbreak.

"We're deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction."

Meanwhile, millions of people in Italy are grappling with a nationwide clampdown, with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announcing Italy would shut all stores except for pharmacies and food shops to curb the disease.

Factories and other big businesses can remain open as long as they adopt "appropriate security measures to prevent contagion," Conte said.

His government vowed to spend up to 25 billion euros ($28 billion) to help contain fallout from the pandemic, including cash for hard-hit hotels and restaurants.

Even places with no significant outbreaks like Poland and Ukraine announced school closures and other restrictive measures. Austria said it would shut museums and halt train services to and from Italy.

In the Middle East, hard-hit Iran reported 63 new deaths, its highest single-day toll, which brought total fatalities to 354. It has yet to impose quarantines but has closed schools, universities and hotels and called on people not to travel.

WHO's Tedros said the country, which has 9,000 cases, was "doing its best" to control the spread of the virus, but that it needed more supplies to cope.

Elsewhere in the region, Kuwait said it was suspending all commercial flights in and out of the country, after it and other Gulf nations had already adopted travel restrictions.

Offering a sliver of hope to the rest of the world, China again announced negligible new daily infections and only a relatively small number of deaths.

Some businesses in China's Hubei province -- where the virus was first detected in December -- were told they could restart work, reducing fears of a prolonged disruption of supply chains.

But China remains the worst-affected country with more than 80,000 confirmed cases and over 3,000 deaths.

Although Panama confirmed its first death Tuesday, Latin America -- along with Africa and Oceania -- has so far reported only small numbers of cases.

England's top-flight football league saw its first cancellation, with Wednesday's match between Arsenal and Manchester City postponed, while E3 -- the world's premier video game trade show, due to be held in June in Los Angeles -- was called off.

In the US, the NBA said it was suspending play starting on Thursday after a Utah Jazz player preliminarily tested positive.

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