January 29, 2020 / 11:06 PM / 24 days ago

UPDATE 1-China virus evacuations begin as death toll rises at outbreak epicenter

(Adds detail on numbers, background)

Jan 30 (Reuters) - Foreign governments began flying their citizens out of China's Hubei province, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, as authorities said the death toll there had topped 160.

The health commission for Hubei said on Thursday that deaths in the province from the new coronavirus had risen by 37 to 162, while a further 1,032 cases had been detected.

Although the majority of cases have been in Hubei, cases have been detected elsewhere in China and in at least 15 other countries.

The World Health Organization's (WHO) Emergency Committee is set to reconvene behind closed doors in Geneva later on Thursday to decide whether the rapid spread of the virus now constitutes a global emergency.

"In the last few days the progress of the virus, especially in some countries, especially human-to-human transmission, worries us," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Wednesday, naming Germany, Vietnam and Japan.

"Although the numbers outside China are still relatively small, they hold the potential for a much larger outbreak."

The United States flew about 200 Americans out of Wuhan, capital of Hubei where most of the cases are concentrated. They were being screened on arrival in California. France, Britain and Canada also have organized evacuations.

The effects of the virus are already weighing heavily on China's economy, the world's second-biggest, with companies cutting corporate travel and tourists cancelling trips.

Various airlines are cutting flights, from British Airways and Lufthansa to Air Canada and American Airlines.

Reporting by Pei Li in Beijing, Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; editing by Diane Craft

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