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Asian stocks follow Wall Street lower on renewed virus fears

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets have followed Wall Street lower after a rise in virus cases in South Korea refueled investor anxiety about China's disease outbreak. Benchmarks in Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Sydney retreated. Markets had been gaining on hopes the viral outbreak that began in the central Chinese city of Wuhan might be under control. Stronger-than-expected U.S. economic data and interest rate cuts by several Asian central banks have helped to buoy sentiment. But investors were jarred by South Korea's report of 52 new cases of the coronavirus. That renewed concern the infection is spreading in South Korea, Singapore and other Asian economies.

The Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo shed 0.4% to 23,386.74 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng tumbled 1.1% to 27,313.40. The Kospi in Seoul fell 1.5% to 2,162.84. The Shanghai Composite index climbed 0.3% to 3,039.67.

The S&P-ASX 200 in Sydney lost 0.3% to 7,139.00. New Zealand advanced while Taiwan and Southeast Asian markets declined.


IATA: Virus may slash $29 billion from airlines' revenue

TOKYO (AP) — The outbreak of the new virus threatens to erase $29 billion of this year's revenue for global airlines, mostly for Chinese carriers, as travel crashes worldwide, according to the International Air Transport Association.

The trade group for global airlines said Thursday that the virus causing COVID-19 has the potential for causing a 13% decline in demand for Asian carriers this year. IATA said the contraction comes at a time when Asian airlines' sales had been growing.

Global air traffic will be reduced by 4.7% for the year, marking the first overall decline in such demand since the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, IATA said in a statement.

The estimates foresee a scenario where COVID-19 has a “V-shaped impact,” similar to what happened during the SARS virus outbreak in 2003, with a sharp dive followed by a quick recovery.

International airlines including British Airways, Germany’s Lufthansa, Australia’s Qantas and the three largest U.S. airlines have suspended flights to China, in some cases until late April or May. Cathay Pacific asked employees to take three weeks of unpaid leave to help it weather the crisis.


Japan to let off last healthy cruise travelers, isolate rest

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's health minister said the last cruise ship passengers who tested negative for a new virus will leave the Diamond Princess today after a much-criticized quarantine of the vessel ended. The ship has the most COVID-19 cases outside of China, with 634 confirmed cases and two deaths among former passengers. Most crew members and other passengers who have not completed their 14-day quarantines because they had more recent contact with infected people are staying on the ship for now, but they will be transported to a government facility to be quarantined in isolation.

Japan's government has been questioned over its decision to keep people quarantined on the ship, given the tight quarters and the difficulty of isolating sick people from the healthy.

Six government quarantine workers contracted the virus, raising questions about the protective measures used.

The two fatalities, a man and woman who were both Japanese and in their 80s, were believed to have been infected before health checks and a Feb. 5 quarantine began on the ship.


California's solar mandate to allow homes without solar

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)— California regulators approved a proposal yesterday to allow builders to construct homes without solar panels, environmentalists and the solar industry say that undercuts California’s seven-week-old law that all new houses have their own solar power. At a passionate hearing, the California Energy Commission unanimously approved the Sacramento Municipal Utility District's plan to build its own large-scale solar site that homeowners can tap into, forgoing the need for solar on each new home.

Environmentalists said it guts the state's new landmark mandate and will lead to other statewide proposals copying Sacramento's utility, which serves 1.5 million residents. But regulators backed the proposal after support from home builders and lawmakers who said it provides clean energy without raising home prices in a state facing a housing crisis.

The mandate that took effect Jan. 1 calls for new single-family houses or low-rise apartments to install solar panels. Alternately, utilities and organizations can apply to the California Energy Commission to build an offsite "community shared solar" site for buildings to draw from.


1 trillion euros: EU leaders get into big fight over budget

BRUSSELS (AP) — The sun has risen over European Union headquarters Friday, but little light is being shed on how much closer the bloc’s 27 leaders might have moved toward resolving their standoff over a common budget for the next seven years. They must decide how best to spend and share some $1.1 trillion over the next seven years. Gaps and resentments between wealthy and poorer members quickly surfaced as presidents and prime ministers from the European Union's 27 countries gathered Thursday in Brussels. From farm subsidies to beefed-up border security or unprecedented climate investment, every EU leader wants the continent-wide budget to fund their own national priorities. Outside the summit center, farmers rolled tractors down the street to push their demands for sufficient funds.

Every EU leader wants to pay as little as possible into the common budget and get as much as possible out of it. Meanwhile, the departure of Britain has cut a 75 billion-euro budget hole.

Concerns are growing about potential conflicts of interest that could see hundreds of millions of euros in funds granted to companies linked to some of the very people deciding how the money should be spent.

Diplomats and number-crunchers have worked on the budget for years, but the issues are so divisive that the leaders' summit might last into Saturday and still end without a result.


Higher red snapper 'target' for charter boats now permanent

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — After Gulf of Mexico charter boat captains stayed within federal limits for red snapper, regulators are making permanent a rule that lets them catch more of the fish.

The rule initially was to be just for one year. The change will likely mean that the 2020 charter boat season for red snapper is seven or eight days longer than it otherwise would have been, according to an announcement Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries division. The popular sport and table fish is recovering from disastrous overfishing.

Regulators have been setting the “catch target” at 20% below the maximum considered allowable, as a buffer against taking too many.

Charter captains have only once gone over their target, so the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management council cut last year's buffer to 9%.


Alaska needs broad review of aviation safety, officials say

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The National Transportation Safety Board says Alaska needs a comprehensive effort to improve aviation safety. The board on Thursday issued a safety recommendation to the Federal Aviation Administration calling for the formation of a working group to help improve safety in the state where the aviation accident rate from 2008 to 2017 was more than two times higher than the rest of the U.S.

The board says statistics show the fatal aviation accident rate in the Alaska was 1.34 times higher than the national average.

In August 2017 the board met in Anchorage in a rare investigative hearing outside Washington, D.C., to increase awareness of “controlled flight into terrain” accidents, in which an airworthy aircraft is flown unintentionally into ground or water.

The hearing focused on an Oct. 2, 2016, crash of a Hageland Aviation Services airplane into a mountain between the two southwest Alaska villages that are tiny communities off the road system. The crash killed two pilots and a passenger. Like dozens of other Alaska communities those villages are not connected to the state road system. Flying is a way of life to reach such destinations. The challenge is increased by the need to cross mountain ranges, open water or regions where weather can change quickly.


American women seek more than $66M in damages from US Soccer

UNDATED (AP) — Players on the U.S. women's national team are seeking more than $66 million in damages as part their gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. The damages were revealed in a slew of court papers filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles ahead of a scheduled May trial.

The women's national team sued the federation last year alleging unequal pay and treatment than player on the men's national team.

Among the dozens of documents were the separate collective bargaining agreements of the U.S. men's and women's teams. The collective bargaining agreements showed a disparity in bonuses but also highlighted the different structures of the deals.

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