Coronavirus: WHO boss warns young people they are 'not invincible'

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned young people not to be complacent, as the coronavirus outbreak continues to widen.

As of Saturday morning more than 263,000 people have been confirmed infected and 11,000 have died from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the disease COVID-19.

Italy has recorded the biggest single-day death toll of the pandemic so far, reporting 627 deaths on Friday - four times higher than China's worst day.

While the disease is far more likely to kill the elderly, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Saturday morning (NZ time) young people can't ignore it.

"Today, I have a message for young people: you are not invincible. This virus could put you in hospital for weeks, or even kill you," he said at a media briefing.

"Even if you don't get sick, the choices you make about where you go could be the difference between life and death for someone else."

There have been reports in the US of massive crowds of youngsters heading to places including Florida for the annual Spring Break celebrations.

"If I get corona, I get corona," one partier told CBS News. "At the end of the day, I'm not going to let it stop me from partying."

"We're here. I just turned 21 this year, so I'm here to party, so it's kind of disappointing, but we're just making the most of it," added 21-year-old Shelby Cordell. 

Dr Tedros said the data showed many hospitalisations are occurring in people under 50, despite COVID-19's reputation as the 'boomer remover', referring to its higher death toll amongst the older generations.

"One of the things we are learning is that although older people are the hardest hit, younger people are not spared."

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Photo credit: Reuters

A new study has found the mortality rate in Wuhan was about 1.4 percent overall. People under 30 were about 40 percent less likely to die, and those above 59, more than five times more likely. 

For each year a patient's age increases above 30, they were 4 percent more likely to have symptoms. 

Previous estimates - including those from the WHO - have put the potential mortality rate at over 3 percent. In hard-hit Italy, it's been estimated at over 8 percent - but Italy has a very old population. 

Dr Tedros said his own daughter was now taking classes at home, with her school closed.