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AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EST

Asia stocks fall on virus fears after Wall Street plunge

Asian stock markets fell further Friday on spreading virus fears, deepening an global rout after Wall Street endured its biggest one-day drop in nine years.

Tokyo’s benchmark fell by an unusually wide margin of 3.4% and Shanghai, Hong Kong and Seoul all dropped by more than 2%. Oil prices slumped further on expectations industrial activity and demand might decline.

Investors who had been confident the disease that emerged in China was under control have been jolted by outbreaks in Italy, South Korea and Iran. They worry the virus is turning into a global threat that might derail trade and industry.

On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 index is down 12% from its all-time high a week ago.

A growing list of major companies are issuing profit warnings and say factory shutdowns in China are disrupting supply chains. They say travel bans and other anti-disease measures also are hurting Chinese consumer spending.

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States ramp up virus preparations, try to reassure public

As worries about the new coronavirus grow in the U.S., state officials are ramping up efforts to prepare for a possible outbreak while simultaneously trying to assure the public that they are well-positioned to handle it.

Governors and legislators in several states have proposed pumping millions of dollars into programs to combat the virus that causes the COVID-19 illness. State health officials are checking on stockpiles of supplies such as face masks and respirators and arranging potential isolation sites for sick patients.

Some states received federal approval Thursday to conduct tests for the virus at their own labs, which could confirm or rule out potential cases more rapidly than waiting on results from federal labs.

Governors in several states — including the three most populated, California, Texas, and Florida — sought to ease concerns about the virus Thursday at news conferences.

“We have an extremely robust, well-informed, activated force prepared for any potential outcome that we may have to deal with,” Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said. Texas is one of the states where coronavirus patients who travelled abroad are being treated in isolated facilities before returning to their homes.

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In scramble to stop virus, testing raises tough questions

NEW YORK (AP) — Health officials confronted tough questions and doubts Thursday about testing to intercept the fast-spreading virus, with scrutiny focused on a four-day delay in screening an infected California woman despite her doctors’ early calls to do so.

The questions are global: not just who, when and how to test for the illness, but how to make sure that working test kits get out to the labs that need them. All those issues apparently came in to play in the treatment of the woman in northern California, a case officials say may be the first community-spread instance of the disease in the U.S.

“This was a clear gap in our preparedness, and the virus went right through the gap,” said Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska College of Public Health.

In the wake of the latest California case, U.S. health officials on Thursday expanded their criteria for who should get tested, and took steps to increase testing.

The debate over testing has taken on added urgency as the number of cases worldwide climbed past 82,000, including 2,800 reported deaths. The rapid spread pushed officials in Saudi Arabia to cut travel to Islam’s holiest sites, triggered tougher penalties in South Korea for people who break quarantines and ratcheted up pressure on investors as U.S. stock markets extended their week-long plunge. The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank nearly 1,200 points Thursday, its worst one-day drop since 2011.

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Whistleblower: Feds helping evacuees lacked virus protection

WASHINGTON (AP) — A government whistleblower has filed a complaint alleging that some federal workers did not have the necessary protective gear or training when they were deployed to help Americans evacuated from China during the coronavirus outbreak.

The complaint deals with Health and Human Services Department employees sent to Travis and March Air Force bases in California to assist the quarantined evacuees. The Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency that investigates personnel issues, confirmed Thursday it has received the unnamed whistleblower’s complaint and has opened a case.

Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., said the whistleblower recently contacted his office, also alleging retaliation by higher-ups for having flagged safety issues.

“My concern from the moment I heard it is that individuals at HHS are not taking the complaints of HHS employees seriously,” Gomez said in an interview. “Their superiors are not supposed to brush them off. By retaliating against people if they do call out a problem, that only discourages other people from ever reporting violations.”

Gomez’s office said the complaint was filed by a high-ranking official at the Administration for Children and Families, an HHS social service agency.

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AP decides not to declare Iowa caucus winner after recount

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Iowa Democratic Party on Thursday released updated results of the Iowa caucuses after the completion of a recount requested by the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg.

In the new results, Buttigieg has 562.954 state delegate equivalents and Sanders has 562.021 state delegate equivalents out of 2,151 counted. That is a margin of 0.04 percentage points.

The Associated Press has reviewed the updated results and will not call a winner, given remaining concerns about whether the results as reported by the party are fully accurate. The Feb. 3 caucuses were beset by technical glitches that led to a delay in reporting the results, inconsistencies in the numbers and no clear winner.

The party plans to certify the results on Saturday. At that point, the caucuses will formally end, and no further changes to the results will be made.

Iowa awards 41 national delegates in its caucuses. As it stands, Buttigieg has 13 delegates and Sanders has 12. Elizabeth Warren won eight, Joe Biden won six and Amy Klobuchar won one.

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Grandfather, Navy vet among 5 victims of Wisconsin shooting

The five men who were killed by a co-worker at a Milwaukee brewery include an electrician, a Navy veteran, a father of two small children, a fisherman and a grandfather who is being remembered as someone who “always put his family’s needs before his own.”

Authorities said the five men were working at Molson Coors Brewing Co. on Wednesday when they were killed by a co-worker, who then turned his gun on himself. Milwaukee police Chief Alfonso Morales identified the victims on Thursday as Jesus Valle Jr., 33, of Milwaukee; Gennady Levshetz, 61, of Mequon; Trevor Wetselaar, 33, of Milwaukee; Dana Walk, 57, of Delafield; and Dale Hudson, 60, of Waukesha.

The gunman, 51-year-old Anthony Ferrill, was also identified Thursday. He was an electrician at Molson Coors and his motive remains a mystery. Police say the case is still under investigation, and they have yet to release details about how the shooting unfolded.

Molson Coors chief executive officer Gavin Hattersley said employees were grieving for the five who were lost.

“They were powerhouse operators, they were machinists and they were electricians,” he said. “But more important, they were husbands, they were fathers and they were friends. They were part of the fabric of our company and our community and we will miss them terribly.”

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AP-NORC poll: How Americans describe 2020 Democrats, Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — Competent, a fighter, good. Old, out of touch, disingenuous. And, of course: Who’s that?

As the 2020 campaign intensifies, a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research asked Americans to say what word or phrase comes to mind when they think of the top candidates, including incumbent President Donald Trump.

Each received both positive and negative responses; In some cases, a sizable share didn’t know enough about the candidate to give a description.

Here’s a look at how Americans characterized the contenders:

BIDEN

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29 Turkish soldiers killed in northeast Syria air strike

BEIRUT (AP) — An air strike by Syrian government forces killed 29 Turkish soldiers in northeast Syria, a Turkish official said Friday, marking the largest death toll for Turkey in a single day since it first intervened in Syria in 2016.

The deaths were a serious escalation in the direct conflict between Turkish and Russia-backed Syrian forces that has been waged since early February.

Rahmi Dogan, the governor of Turkey’s Hatay province bordering Syria’s Idlib region, said 29 troops were killed and others were seriously wounded in the attack late Thursday. He said 39 injured were being treated in Turkish hospitals.

Three Turkish soldiers were killed earlier Thursday in Idlib. At least 50 have now been killed in Idlib since the start of February.

U.N. Secretary-General reiterated his call for an immediate cease-fire and expressed serious concern about the risk to civilians from escalating military actions,,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

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BTS cancels concerts in South Korean capital due to virus

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — K-pop superstar group BTS has cancelled a series of planned concerts in Seoul in April due to concerns about a soaring viral outbreak in South Korea, its management agency announced Friday.

“We regret to announce that the BTS MAP OF THE SOUL TOUR … has been cancelled,” the Seoul-based Big Hit Entertainment said in a statement.

It said the COVID-19 “outbreak has made it impossible at this time to predict the scale of the outbreak during the dates of the concert in April.”

The seven-member boy band was scheduled to perform April 11-12 and April 18-19 at Seoul’s Olympic Stadium. The concerts would have involved a number of global production companies and a large number of foreigners among its expert crew, with more than 200,000 concertgoers expected, according to the agency.

South Korean media described the concerts as the inaugural Seoul leg of BTS’s new world tour.

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Cycling race cancelled with 2 virus cases, Froome quarantined

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A major cycling race in the United Arab Emirates was cancelled early Friday after two Italians tested positive for the new coronavirus, setting off a quarantine that also ensnared four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome of Britain.

The Abu Dhabi Sports Council’s decision to cancel the race comes as the virus rapidly spreads across the wider Middle East, with over 370 confirmed cases. Many link back to Iran, which has the highest death toll outside of China, the epicenter of the virus that causes the COVID-19 illness.

Just a day earlier, Saudi Arabia took the unprecedented step of closing Islam’s holiest sites off to foreign pilgrims to stop the virus’ spread. Meanwhile, the virus continued its spread across top leaders in Iran, afflicting Vice-President Masoumeh Ebtekar. She’s better known as “Sister Mary,” the English-speaking spokeswoman for the students who seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and sparked the 444-day hostage crisis.

The number of infections in Iran has spiked Thursday by over 100 to at least 254, but a World Health Organization official said he believes that figure is “a substantial underestimate of the true number.”

In Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, its sports council said two Italians involved in the race tested positive for the new coronavirus. It said it would cancel the two remaining legs of the competition in Abu Dhabi.

The Associated Press

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