Tightened lockdowns across the world saw nearly half of humanity told to stay at home in a bid to stem the spiralling coronavirus pandemic, as Spain recorded its deadliest day and the United States braced for the full impact of the disease.

The virus has claimed over 38,000 lives worldwide in a health crisis that is rapidly reorganising political power, hammering the global economy and the daily existence of some 3.6 billion people. 

The number of officially confirmed fatalities from the novel coronavirus rose to 38,466 today, according to a tally compiled by AFP at 11am from official sources.

More than 791,000 declared cases have been registered in 185 countries and territories since the epidemic first emerged in China in December. Of these cases, at least 163,300 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections. Many countries are only testing cases that require hospitalisation.

In Africa, Tanzania and Ivory Coast have announced their first deaths, while South Sudan reported its first case.

Europe has listed 429,362 cases and 27,740 deaths to date, Asia 108,143 cases and 3,878 deaths, the US and Canada together have 171,896 cases with 3,240 deaths, the Middle East 54,642 cases and 2,999 deaths, Latin America and the Caribbean 16,399 cases with 417 deaths, Africa 5,343 cases with 170 deaths and Oceania 5,224 cases with 22 deaths.

Spain, whose outbreak is the world's second deadliest after Italy, broke another national record of 849 deaths in one day, dampening hopes it could have  passed the peak of the crisis that has debilitated the country for weeks.

Spain has recorded 8,189 fatalities and 94,417 infections.

In battered Italy, flags flew at half-mast during a minute of silence to honour the more than 11,500 people who have perished from the virus, and the health workers still working through nightmarish conditions.

Although there are signs the spread of infections is slowing in Italy, hundreds are still dying every day, leading authorities to extend a stringent nationwide shutdown despite its crushing economic impact.

In Belgium a 12-year-old girl infected with Covid-19 was pronounced dead, a rare case of a young person succumbing to the disease. 

Read more: Latest coronavirus headlines

The United States has the highest number of infected people with 164,610 diagnosed cases, 3,393 deaths and 5,764 recoveries.

Scenes previously unimaginable in peacetime - such as a field hospital set to open in Central Park - shook frightened New Yorkers hunkered down in an eerily quiet city.

A US military medical ship with 1,000 beds also docked in Manhattan to relieve pressure on the city's overwhelmed health system. 

'We need help now'

The city's food banks are seeing a surge of newcomers who have lost income as the world's financial capital shuts down. 

"It is my first time," Lina Alba, a 40-year-old single mother of five, said at a food distribution centre run by the New York charity City Harvest. 

She worked as a maid in a Manhattan hotel until it closed two weeks ago.

"We need the help now. This is crazy. So we don't know what's gonna happen in a few weeks." 

In the state of Maryland, alarm bells rang after 67 residents of a retirement home tested positive for the virus, with one 90-year-old man dying at the weekend.

Maryland joined Virginia and Washington DC to become the latest parts of the US to impose stay-at-home orders, putting three-quarters of Americans under some form of lockdown. 

President Donald Trump sought to reassure Americans that authorities were ramping up distribution of desperately needed equipment such as ventilators and personal protective gear. 

But he also offered a stark warning, saying "challenging times are ahead for the next 30 days" as he acknowledged a potential nationwide stay-at-home order.

"We're sort of putting it all on the line," Mr Trump said, again likening the efforts against coronavirus to a "war." 

The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases around the world is now approaching 38,000 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker. 

"Waking up this morning I cried. I cried eating breakfast. I cried getting ready," French nurse Elise Cordier confessed on Facebook in a post that revealed the fear and anguish of those on the front line.

But, she said, once in "the hospital locker room, I dried my tears. I breathed in. I breathed out. The people in the hospital beds are crying too, and it is I who am there to dry their tears." 

World leaders - several of whom have been stricken or forced into isolation - are still grappling for ways to deal with a crisis that is generating economic and social shockwaves unseen since World War II. 

Finance ministers and central bankers from the world's 20 major economies were to hold a second round of virtual talks today to forge a plan for confronting the crisis.

Last week, G20 leaders pledged to inject $5 trillion into the global economy in hopes of heading off a deep recession. 

The virus has seen global markets plunging in recent weeks, although trillions of dollars pledged to offset the economic impact have provided some semblance of stability. 

Experts in Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse, said the virus would shrink output there this year by up to 5.4 percent. 

Amid a global tussle for medical gear, Mr Trump said would send some excess shipments of equipment to hard-hit Italy, France and Spain. 

European nations, meanwhile, delivered medical goods to badly-affected Iran in the first transaction under the Instex mechanism set up to bypass US sanctions on Tehran. 

The number of cases in Iran has surpassed 44,000, with US sanctions complicating efforts to rein in the virus' spread.

The economic pain of lockdowns is especially acute in impoverished cities in Africa and Asia. 

Africa's biggest city Lagos, joined the global stay-at-home, with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari ordering a two-week lockdown for its 20 million people. The measures also apply to the capital Abuja. 

A man carries bags of rice on his head at a border between Abuja and the Nasarawa State 

"Two weeks is too long. I don't know how we will cope," said student Abdul Rahim, 25, as he helped his sister sell food from a market stall. 

Poverty-stricken Zimbabwe also began enforcing a three-week lockdown. 

"They need to be fed, but there is nothing to eat," Irene Ruwisi said in the township of Mbare, pointing to her four grandchildren. "How do they expect us to survive?" 

'Work continues'

A couple smile from the window of their home in Livorno, Italy 

After weeks of a national lockdown in Italy, signs were emerging that drastic action could be slowing the spread of the disease.

Even though the country's death toll grew by 812 in 24 hours to 11,591, the number of infections climbed just 4.1%.

"The data are better but our work continues," said Giulio Gallera, the chief medical officer of Lombardy, Italy's worst-hit region.