Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian shares skid on virus worries

TOKYO (AP) — Asian shares mostly fell today, on continuing worries about the economic fallout from the pandemic as reports of coronavirus cases keep surging in various regions.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei finished 4.5% lower.

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Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 3.6% while South Korea’s Kospi dipped 3.8%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 2.6% while the Shanghai Composite edged 0.5% lower. India’s Sensex fell 3.4%. Shares fell in Singapore and Indonesia but rose in Malaysia and Thailand.

On Tuesday U.S. stocks plunged, closing out their worst quarter since the 2008 financial crisis. And Wall Street is expected to open lower today, with Dow and S&P futures both down about 3%.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-BUSINESS FALLOUT

Ford pushes back date to reopen idled North American assembly plants

UNDATED (AP) — Less than a week after saying it planned to reopen five North American assembly plants, Ford has decided that those facilities will remain closed indefinitely.

The announcement to reopen got a cool reception from the United Auto Workers union.

The spread of the virus has begun to hit Michigan hard. The TCF Center in downtown Detroit soon will be turned into a 900-bed field hospital for COVID-19 patients.

In other news:

— The workplace environment, for those companies that must have workers on location, is changing.

Walmart will soon be taking temperatures of its workers as they arrive for their shifts. Any worker with a temperature of 100 degrees or more will be sent home, with pay. Walmart will also be issuing masks and gloves to those who want them.

— Some Americans are coping with the new coronavirus by turning to booze. U.S. sales of alcoholic beverages rose 55% in the week ending March 21, according to market research firm Nielsen. Spirits like tequila, gin and pre-mixed cocktails led the way, with sales jumping 75% compared to the same period last year. Wine sales were up 66% while beer sales rose 42%. And online sales far outpaced in-store sales.

— Luxury clothing companies, chemical producers, car makers and other companies continue to revamp production to meet pandemic supply demands. Dow, which typically does not produce hand sanitizer, is doing so because the raw materials are readily available to the chemical maker. The majority of the sanitizer will be donated to health systems and government agencies.

— Nine U.S. senators are demanding that airlines make cash refunds to customers whose flights were canceled during the coronavirus outbreak. The lawmakers said Tuesday that because Congress gave airlines an “unprecedented bailout” in the economic-relief bill, they have a moral responsibility to provide cash refunds to customers whose flights were canceled and help bring back Americans who are stranded abroad.

— Travel has almost come to a complete standstill. Airports are empty and Manhattan avenues typically choked with taxis are almost vacant. The Transportation Security Administration screened 154,080 people Monday, the fewest yet and a drop of more than 93% from last year, when more than 2.3 million people passed through airport checkpoints.

—U.S. gasoline prices have dropped to their lowest levels in four years, and they are almost sure to fall further. Price-tracking services put the national average this week at around $2 a gallon. Some stations were charging under a dollar.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-SCARCE INTERNET

Those without broadband struggle in a stuck-at-home nation

NEW YORK (AP) — As schools, workplaces and public services shut down in the age of coronavirus, online connections are keeping Americans in touch with vital institutions and each other. But that’s not much of an option when fast internet service is hard to come by.

Although efforts to extend broadband service have made progress in recent years, tens of millions of people are still left out, largely because phone and cable companies hesitate to invest in far-flung rural areas. Government subsidies in the billions haven’t fully fixed the problem.

Many more simply can’t afford broadband. U.S. broadband costs more than in many comparable countries — an average of $58 a month compared to $46.55 across 29 nations. That’s according to a 2018 Federal Communications Commission report.

Even in cities, the high cost of internet access means many go without. Low-cost local alternatives such as libraries and cafes have shut down.

CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES UTILITY

Regulators mull reversing $462M increase in PG&E fire fines

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — California power regulators are weighing a recommendation to back off plans to fine Pacific Gas and Electric an additional $462 million for igniting a series of Northern California 2018 deadly wildfires rather than risk that the harsher punishment will scuttle the utility’s plan to emerge from bankruptcy protection.

The state’s Public Utilities Commission is mulling whether to pare the penalties facing PG&E as the result of a proposed revision floated by one of agency’s five commissioners, Clifford Rechtschaffen.

In another development, PG&E disclosed it took steps to ensure it will not have to tap into a $13.5 billion fund set up for wildfire victims to pay a separate $4 million fine that will be imposed for the company’s guilty plea to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter stemming from a 2018 inferno triggered by its outdated electrical grid. Last week, PG&E disclosed its bankruptcy plan required that financial penalties for the crimes would come from the victims’ fund.

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