The German Chancellor made her prediction while addressing a meeting of her Christian Democratic party in Berlin on Tuesday, according to the newspaper Bild. Ms Merkel is reported to have said that as many as 58 million Germans could develop the disease if effective measure were not taken to combat it. She told her audience: “Sixty to 70 per cent of people in Germany will become infected with the coronavirus.”

Ms Merkel was met by a stoney silence from the assembled politicians, as she made her prophetic announcement.

However, Health Minister Jens Spahn claimed that 80 percent of cases would be mild with patients showing almost no symptoms.

Germany has currently recorded over 1,500 cases of COVID-19, with the first two deaths from the disease confirmed on Monday night.

That means that Germany has around a 0.2 percent mortality rate, whereas in Italy the rate is close to five percent.

The coronavirus continues to sweep its way through the European continent, spreading panic and fear in its wake.

There have now been more than 17,000 confirmed cases and over 700 deaths in Europe.

The worst affected country remains Italy, whose death toll jumped on Tuesday by 168 to 631, an increase of 36 percent.

The severity of the contagion in Italy has led the Italian Government to introduce a lockdown of the entire country of 60 million people.

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In response to the crisis in Italy, British Airways has decided to suspend all flights to the country, leaving many Britains stranded.

Samantha Thomas told the Guardian: “I feel absolutely betrayed.

“Our UK government has not helped playing the virus down, saying don’t panic but it’s clearly out of control here in Italy and we have no idea how to get out now.

“We just want to get home.”

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Elsewhere in mainland Europe, Spain saw its infection rates surge to 1,622, with 35 deaths.

The Spanish Government responded by closing universities and schools in the capital of Madrid.

France also experienced spiralling numbers of new infections, as it recorded a 70 percent rise in cases over Monday night, with more than 1,200 patients now known to have caught the deadly infection.

EU leaders held crisis talks by video conference on Tuesday, in an attempt to coordinate their response to the epidemic engulfing the continent.

Afterwards, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said that a coronavirus response investment fund would be set up to help deal with the economic fallout from the epidemic.

In a statement, she said: “We will bring forward, a corona response investment fund directed at the healthcare systems, directed at SMEs and at the labour market and other vulnerable parts of our economies.

“The instrument will be sizeable and reach €25billion (£21.9billion) quickly.

“To realise this, I will propose to council and parliament this week to release €7.5billion (£6.5billion) of investment liquidity.”

Worldwide 118,926 cases of the virus have been reported, with 4,292 deaths, according to the website worldometers.info

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