The coronavirus has appeared for the first time in New York, Moscow and Berlin as clusters of the disease surged around the world.

New cases in China dropped to their lowest level in six weeks on Monday and hundreds of patients were released from hospitals at the epicentre of the outbreak.

In a sign the virus is entering a chilling new phase, almost nine times more cases were reported outside China than inside it over the past 24 hours, news.com.au reported.

But World Health Organisation executive director of emergencies Dr Mike Ryan pointed out that even regions that have taken less aggressive measures than the extraordinary lockdowns implemented by China have managed to keep the virus in check.

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Ryan said that because Covid-19 is not as easily transmitted as the flu, "it offers us a glimmer ... that this virus can be suppressed and contained".

Amid the good-news, bad-news developments, the global death toll pushed past 3000, and the number of people infected topped 89,000, with fast-expanding outbreaks in South Korea, Italy and Iran.

In New Zealand, one person has been confirmed as having the virus and another two are awaiting test results after showing symptoms "consistent with Covid-19".

Around the world, the virus reshaped people's routines, both at home and at work, from the millions of Japanese schoolchildren facing four weeks without class to special voting booths for Israelis under quarantine. Mobile hospitals were planned in Iran, and the Mona Lisa hung in a vacant room of the now closed Louvre in Paris.

The Organisation for Economic co-operation and Development warned that the world economy could contract this quarter for the first time since the international financial crisis more than a decade ago.

VIRUS INFECTIONS RISING

"Just about everywhere, the cases are rising quite quickly in a number of countries," said Ian Mackey, who studies viruses at the University of Queensland in Australia.

South Korea, with the worst outbreak outside of China, said it recorded 599 new cases Monday, bringing the total to 4335. The death toll rose to 26.

South Korean Army soldiers wearing protective gear gather to spray disinfectant to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Photo / AP
South Korean Army soldiers wearing protective gear gather to spray disinfectant to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Photo / AP

To cope, the country said hospitals will be reserved for patients with serious symptoms or pre-existing conditions, with mild cases now routed to other designated facilities.

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"If we continue to hospitalise mild patients amid the continued surge in infections, we would be risking overworking medical professionals and putting them at greater risk of infections," said the country's vice-health minister, Kim Gang-lip.

South Korea extended the shutdown of its schools two more weeks to March 23. And the leader of a church that has blamed for being the source of the country's largest cluster of infections bowed in apology.

"We also did our best but weren't able to contain it fully," said Lee Man-hee, the 88-year-old leader of the Shincheonji church, which some mainstream Christian groups reject as a cult.

IRAN

In the Middle East, a worsening situation in Iran was accompanied by concern for its top leaders after a member of the council that advises the Islamic Republic's supreme leader died of Covid-19.

Iran has confirmed 1501 cases and 66 deaths, but many believe the true number is larger.

Its caseload surged more than 250 per cent in just 24 hours.

People wearing face masks walk on a sidewalk in downtown Tehran, Iran. Photo / AP
People wearing face masks walk on a sidewalk in downtown Tehran, Iran. Photo / AP

Major Shiite shrines in Iran remain open despite civilian authorities' calls to close them.

The holy cities of Mashad and Qom, where Shiites often touch and kiss shrines in a show of faith, have had high numbers of infections.

The Revolutionary Guard said it will install some mobile hospitals in response, and authorities have been cleaning the shrines and spraying down streets with disinfectant.

"We will have two difficult weeks ahead," said Ali Raibiei, a spokesman for the Iranian government.

EUROPE

In Europe, leaders braced for worsening caseloads after the count surged in France, Italy and to a lesser degree Spain over the weekend.

Italy's infections ballooned 50 per cent in 24 hours to 1694.

Health officials in northern Italy sought to bring doctors out of retirement and accelerate nursing students' graduations to help an overwhelmed public health system.

Tourists, some wearing a mask, queue to enter the Louvre museum in Paris. Photo / AP
Tourists, some wearing a mask, queue to enter the Louvre museum in Paris. Photo / AP

The Louvre, the world's most popular museum, remained closed as its 2300 workers expressed fears of contracting the virus from visitors arriving from all over the world.

At Fashion Week in Paris, attendees greeted each other with elbow touches instead of kisses.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's outstretched hand was rebuffed by her interior minister at a meeting. Japan closed schools for most of the country's 12.7 million children until the end of the month, creating difficulties for some families.