Countries are making a “fatal mistake” to think they are immune from coronavirus, the World Health Organisation has warned, as more European countries confirmed infections following Italy’s shock outbreak.

In its latest statement, WHO declared the global emergency had reached a “decisive point” following clusters in Iran, Italy and South Korea.

Covid-19 also had “pandemic potential” and could “get out of control” if countries did not act to contain it, director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said as he urged a redoubling of efforts to contain its spread.

The WHO warning came as 11 European countries confirmed infections, with a number of them traced to the sudden outbreak in Italy where even the Pope had to cancel a religious service after coming down with flu-like symptoms.

This is not a time for fear. This is a time for taking action to prevent infection and save lives now,” Dr Ghebreyesus said.

“If you act aggressively now, you can contain this virus, you can prevent people getting sick, you can save lives.”

Dr Ghebreyesus used Italy, which has the most infections outside Asia, as an example to show the virus could spread to anywhere.

“No country should assume it won’t get cases, that would be a fatal mistake, quite literally,” he said.

“And I even say if you take Italy, a member of the G7, it was really a surprise. So even many other developed countries you also see some surprises, should expect some surprises.”

A teacher takes part in a recording of her lessons inside a classroom in a middle school, as students’ return to school has been delayed because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, in Shaoyang, Hunan province, China, on February 16, 2020.

More than 82,500 people world wide have been infected with a death toll of 2810.

As Italy struggles to contain the rapid outbreak, recording 528 cases of infection so far, Pope Francis had to cancel a planned religious service due to a “slight ailment,” the Vatican said.

Pope Francis, aged 83, was supposed to lead a Lenten service with priests from the Rome diocese in the Basilica of St John’s in Lateran, roughly a 6km drive southeast of St Peter’s Square.

Instead, he “preferred to stay in the vicinity of Santa Marta”, Vaspokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement.

On Wednesday, as he held his weekly audience and later led an Ash Wednesday service, he displayed the symptoms of a cold, with a coarse voice and frequent coughing.

It came amid widespread anxiety in Italy about the spread of the pneumonia-like coronavirus, which is mostly affecting northern regions and not Rome.

Schools, universities, cinemas and Milans famous La Scala opera house have been closed and several public events cancelled.

Eleven towns at the centre of the outbreak, home to a total of 55,000 people, have been quarantined. There are fears that the outbreak may tip Italy into economic recession.