Pope Francis has taken ill and cancelled an event at a Rome basilica as coronavirus locks down towns in northern Italy.

The pontiff, who had earlier shown solidarity with coronavirus sufferers, is carrying out the rest of his schedule in his residence, the Vatican said on Thursday.

"Because of a slight indisposition, he preferred to stay inside Santa Marta," the Vatican said, referring to the Vatican guest house where the 83-year-old pontiff lives.

"All other commitments will go ahead regularly," spokesman Matteo Bruni said.

It comes as the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto are locked down, with Italy reporting more than 500 infections and 14 deaths as of Thursday afternoon.

Have you been affected by coronavirus? Email [email protected]

Francis kisses a child during his general audience on Wednesday

The Vatican released a picture of the pope and Cardinal Antonio Tagle, a Filipino who has just started in a new post in the Vatican, meeting on Thursday morning with members of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, an international environmental group.

The meeting took place in a building steps from the guest house.

The mask-free pope appeared to have a cold and spoke with a slightly hoarse voice at his general audience on Wednesday and coughed during an afternoon Ash Wednesday service in a Rome church.

Speaking during his audience in St Peter’s Square, he said, “I wish, again, to express my closeness to those who are ill with coronavirus and to health-care workers who are caring for them.”

Army and Carabinieri checkpoints on the border of the red zone in northern Italy

Francis is missing a part of one lung, which  was removed when he was in his early 20s in his native Buenos Aires after he suffered from tuberculosis, according to biographer Austen Ivereigh.

He also suffers some leg pain due to sciatica, for which he undergoes regular physical therapy and which explains his occasional difficulty climbing steps.

But he is in generally good health and has been able to endure about four gruelling international trips each year since his election in 2013.

Read More

Coronavirus outbreak

The pope had been due to go to the Basilica of St John's in Lateran on Thursday morning for a Lenten service with Roman priests.

Some Lent Ash Wednesday services were cancelled or limited in areas of northern Italy hit by the spread of coronavirus.

More than 400 people have contracted the disease and 12 have died of it in Italy, in the worst contagion from the coronavirus so far recorded in Europe.

A number of people wore masks in St Peter's Square at the Wednesday audience but only one person was seen wearing one at the pope's Ash Wednesday service.

The northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto have been locked down

The coronavirus' rapid spread in Iran, Italy, South Korea and elsewhere left alarmed governments and people across the globe rushing on Thursday to implement emergency measures.

For the first time, new infections around the world in the past 24 hours surpassed those in mainland China, where the flu-like disease emerged two months ago but is on the decline after an aggressive containment campaign.

In Japan, where cases rose to 200, there was particular concern after a female tour bus guide tested positive for a second time - one of very few worldwide to do so.

Tokyo has halted big gatherings and sports events for two weeks, and is closing schools early for the spring break.

Robots are being used to check people for coronavirus at hospitals in China

But it still plans to go ahead with the 2020 Olympics, whose cancellation or relocation would be a massive blow for Japan.

The coronavirus has mainly battered China, causing 78,596 cases and 2,746 deaths.

But it has spread to another 44 countries with 3,246 cases and 51 deaths reported.

Britain confirmed its 14th and 15th cases on Thursday. One had been to Tenerife recently and the other had returned from Italy.

About 170 Britons are trapped in a hotel in Tenerife that has been put into quarantine after four Italian tourists tested positive for the illness.

Though meeting the dictionary definition of a pandemic - widespread contagion across a large region - the World Health Organisation (WHO) has so far held back from using that term.

"There is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said as he ordered hospitals to ensure sufficient medical supplies, protective gear and staff.

US President Donald Trump put his vice president, Mike Pence, in charge of America's response, while France's President Emmanuel Macron rallied the nation.

A health worker sprays disinfectant in the South Korean city of Daegu

"We have a crisis before us. An epidemic is on its way," Mr Macron said at a Paris hospital where a 60-year-old Frenchman this week became the second person to die from the coronavirus in France.

The coronavirus has played havoc with global aviation and tourism as airlines cancel flights, countries ban visitors from hotspots and nervous passengers put off travel.

News that a Korean Air flight attendant who worked on flights between Seoul and Los Angeles later tested positive was likely to unnerve passengers further.

A security worker at the airport in Daegu had also tested positive.

Holidaymakers wearing masks sun themselves at a quarantined hotel in Tenerife

The United States is managing 59 cases - most of them Americans repatriated from a cruise ship quarantined in Japan where almost 700 cases developed.

But Mr Trump said the risk was "very low" in the United States which was "very, very ready".

Chinese authorities said the number of new deaths stood at 29 on Thursday, its lowest daily tally since Jan. 28. There were just 433 new cases in mainland China in the last 24 hours, compared to 586 in nations and territories elsewhere.

Spooked by the impact on China, the world's second-biggest economy and the heart of corporate supply chains, and the increasing effect on other countries, stock markets sank deeper into the red and oil prices fell.

Global markets have dropped for six straight days, wiping out more than $3.6 trillion in value.

A rash of countries have had their first cases in recent days, the latest being Denmark with a man back from a ski holiday in Italy, and Estonia with someone returning from Iran.

There is no cure for the virus that can lead to pneumonia, and a vaccine may take up to 18 months to develop.

New cases in South Korea took its total to 1,261 with 12 deaths, while Europe's hotspot Italy had 453 infections and 12 deaths, and Iran reported 245 cases and 26 fatalities.

Urging people to avoid unnecessary travel, Tehran extended its closure of cinemas, cultural events and conferences for another week.

Iran's outbreak has added to the isolation of a nation already under US sanctions.