Pope falls sick after showing 'solidarity' with coronavirus patients

Pope Francis has fallen ill, a day after showing solidarity with coronavirus patients. 

Earlier in the day, he met crowds, kissing faces and touching hands. He was forced to cancel a planned mass in Rome as a result. 

A spokesperson says he'd be going about his other business for the day, but he wanted to stay within the Vatican, which is located inside the Italian capital of Rome.

The nature of his illness is unknown, but he has been spotted blowing his nose. The spokesperson called his illness a "slight indisposition". 

He reportedly didn't meet any actual coronavirus patients. 

"I wish... to express my closeness to those who are ill with coronavirus and to health-care workers who are caring for them," Francis told Ash Wednesday crowds in St Peter's Square. 

COVID-19, the virus' official name, is taking hold in Italy. The European nation has the third-highest number of cases, behind only China - where it originated - and South Korea.

So far there have been 528 cases and 14 deaths in Italy, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The outbreak has reached a "decisive point", WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news briefing on Friday (NZ time).

He's urging countries to redouble efforts to contain its spread.

"This virus has pandemic potential. This is not a time for fear. This is a time for taking action to prevent infection and save lives now."