BRUSSELS/GENEVA, March 13 (Xinhua) -- The chief of World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday in Geneva that Europe has now become the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China.
At a daily briefing, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that more cases are being reported every day in Europe than in China at the height of its epidemic.
Calling it "a tragic milestone" that 5,000 people died of COVID-19 worldwide, as more than 132,000 cases have been reported to WHO from 123 countries and regions, he urged all to take a comprehensive approach to contain the spreading virus.
"Any country that looks at the experience of other countries with large epidemics and thinks 'that won't happen to us' is making a deadly mistake," he warned.
On Friday, Italy, the worst hit country in Europe, reported 250 new deaths from the coronavirus, bringing the country's death toll to 1,266.
A total of 14,955 people have tested positive for the coronavirus since the epidemic first emerged in northern Italy on Feb. 21.
France said 18 people diagnosed with the coronavirus died on Friday, bringing its death toll to 79, while the confirmed cases rose to 3,661 on Friday from 2,876 on Thursday.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the government has decided to lower the size limit for gatherings to 100 people from the previous 1,000, in order to "slow down" the spread of the virus and the ban will apply throughout the national territory.
In Spain, the number of coronavirus cases had risen from around 3,200 on Thursday to 4,334 on Friday, with 122 deaths. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Friday placed the country on a "state of alert".
The number of deaths in the Netherlands rose from five to ten in one day, while the number of people who tested positive for the virus increased by 190 to 804 on Friday.
Switzerland decided on Friday to close schools and ban public and private gatherings involving more than 100 people as its COVID-19 cases rose to 1,009, and death toll at nine.
Denmark announced that it would be closing its borders starting from 12:00 noon Saturday as 801 people have been infected. Until April 13, any non-resident without a valid reason for entering will be banned entry.
In Austria, as those infected topped 500, all non-essential businesses nationwide will be closed from Monday, while the closing hours of all restaurants, bars and cafes will be at 3 p.m. staring from next week. From Monday there will be flight bans for France, Spain and Switzerland.
Ireland and Luxembourg reported their first COVID-19 death respectively.
Finland confirmed 51 new cases, including one in the Finnish Defence Forces, bringing the country's total to 161, approaching the threshold to define the outbreak as an epidemic.
In Slovenia, the number of confirmed cases rose to 141 by 2 pm on Friday, while three new cases had been confirmed in Lithuania, making the total number to six.
With the fast spread of COVID-19, European countries were joining Italy in adopting intensified measures to curb the disease, including closing schools, declaring national emergency and closing borders.
Two German states -- Saarland and Bavaria -- on Friday announced closures of all schools and day-care facilities for children.
The number of confirmed cases in Germany amounted to 3,062 as of Friday afternoon, according to Robert Koch Institute, the disease control authority. So far, five people in Germany have died from the disease, all of them older than 67 .
The Bulgarian National Assembly, the country's parliament, declared a nationwide state of emergency Friday, taking effect immediately and be in force for one month. Nurseries, kindergartens, schools, universities and other educational organizations are closed and all kinds of mass events suspended.
From next Monday, Czech citizens and foreigners with permanent residence in the country will be banned from travelling abroad, while foreigners are also not allowed entry. A mandatory two-week quarantine will be imposed on Czech nationals and residents returning from 15 high risk countries, mostly in Europe.
On Friday, the biggest theme park of the Netherlands, Efteling, decided to close its doors until March 31. Universities are closed and switch to online lectures. The Dutch government has called on people to work from home as much as possible.
Greek authorities on Friday further expanded closure measures by ordering the shutdown of museums, archaeological sites, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, shopping malls and libraries nationwide, as confirmed cases climbed to 190 from 117 a day earlier.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday night that Budapest will close all the schools as of Monday, March 16. Hungary reported three new cases on Friday, bringing the total to 19.
Poland declared a state of emergency on Friday, ceasing all cross-border road, air and rail passenger traffic as of Sunday. The measures apply for at least 10 days, with a possible extension of another 20 days.
Non-Polish nationals will be barred entry after Saturday, while Polish nationals are allowed to enter by road and chartered flights, on the condition of a 14-day home quarantine immediately after return. Domestic traffic is to stay uninterrupted.
Malls, restaurants, clubs, bars and casinos are also closed while gatherings of over 50 people banned.
In Luxembourg City, all schools are closed. All events with the participation of over 100 people are cancelled and large gatherings should be also avoided.
Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) announced on Friday that all visitors will be subjected to a mandatory 14-day quarantine, starting from Monday March 16.