The World Health Organisation has signalled a new ray of hope to combat the coronavirus outbreak after announcing another spike in China's death toll.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus believes the first vaccine could be ready in 18 months, saying there is a "realistic chance" that "rational and evidence-based interventions" will be able to stop the spread of the epidemic.

He took the Geneva press conference on Tuesday (local time) to urge wealthy countries to "invest in preparedness”, as the outbreak still poses a “very grave threat for the rest of the world”.



Perhaps, what's even more concerning is the ability for the coronavirus to "create havoc", if it spreads to countries with weak health systems, Mr Ghebreyesus said.

WHO decided to give the disease the official name "Covid-19" to "prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatising", Mr Ghebreyesus said.

Fatalities in mainland China have now hit 1017, while 42,708 have been infected so far – but a look at the world shows the numbers of new cases were falling in parts, according to government medical adviser Zhong Nanshan.

The epidemiologist, who won fame for his role in combating an outbreak of SARS in 2003, went so far as to say that coronavirus infections "may be over" by April as the epidemic looks set to peak in February.

Only 319 cases have been confirmed in 24 other countries and territories outside mainland China, with two deaths: one in Hong Kong and the other in the Philippines.


WHO executive director Dr Michael Ryan said “one clinical trial is already on the way” in China to develop an effective vaccine or cure.

He hopes China, with WHO's help, will be able to establish more clinical trials in the very near future.

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A passenger wearing a protective mask and covering her body with plastic bags as protection from the coronavirus at Beijing railway station in Beijing. Photo: AAP

Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday that China's prevention and control work on the coronavirus is having positive results and the country will win the battle against the virus, state media reported.

China will be more prosperous after the battle against the virus is won, the report cited Mr Xi as saying.

Across the globe, thousands of people remain trapped on cruise ships that were placed in lockdown – but not all have confirmed cases aboard.

There are currently four stationary ships with well over 5000 passengers who are being monitored or quarantined as health officials seek to contain the spread.

They include Diamond Princess, Westerdam, World Dream and The Anthem of the Seas.

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The Diamond Princess cruise ship had around 3,700 people on board, with 10 passengers confirmed to be infected with coronavirus.

Diamond Princess off the coast of Japan is the main concern, with 135 people infected, 11 of whom are Australians.

No passengers on board the other three ships tested positive for the coronavirus.

-with agencies