The deadly coronavirus outbreak is the ‘worst enemy you can ever imagine’ and more of a threat to humanity than terrorism, the World Health Organisation warns.

China hopes the killer virus, which has claimed more than 1,000 lives and struck down over 44,500 people, will be curbed by April.

But WHO’s director-general, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus said it could rumble on for more than a year and warned a vaccine could take at least 18 months to develop.

He added: ‘To be honest, a virus is more powerful in creating political, social and economic upheaval than any terrorist attack. It’s the worst enemy you can imagine.’

On Tuesday, a top Hong Kong medical official predicted the coronavirus could infect more than 60 per cent of the global population if containment methods fail.

Professor Gabriel Leung, chair of public health medicine in the city, said on Tuesday even if the coronavirus kills just 1 per cent of sufferers, it could still wipe out as many as 45million people. The WHO has long believed that a new disease pandemic could rapidly race around the world and destabilise society, due to modern air travel.

Dr. Ghebreyesus’ stark warning was a more broad statement about new unknown viruses, not specifically the Chinese coronavirus. It comes after the United Nations health agency gave the illness its official name, COVID-19. CO stands for corona, VI for the virus, D for disease and 19 for the year it emerged, Dr. Ghebreyesus explained on Tuesday when it was revealed.