Update on the latest in business:


Asian stocks fall as virus fears spook markets, hit tourism

BANGKOK (AP) — Shares tumbled today in the few Asian markets open as China announced sharp increases in the number of people affected in an outbreak of a potentially deadly virus.

Many regional markets, including China’s, were closed in Asia for Lunar New Year holidays.


Tokyo’s Nikkei sank 2%. India’s Sensex lost 0.4%, while the benchmark in Thailand dropped 2.9%. Indonesia’s share benchmark was 1.4% lower.

On Friday, the S&P 500 had its worst day since early October, dropping 0.9% as health care stocks saw steep losses.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.6% and the Nasdaq composite lost 0.9%. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 1.64% from 1.74% Thursday.


Survey of business economists finds slight rise in optimism

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. business economists are slightly more optimistic about economic growth than they were three months ago, and most foresee sales at their companies remaining solid.

Those findings emerge from the latest survey by the National Association for Business Economics being released today. It finds that 67% of the business economists who responded to the survey are expecting moderate economic growth of 1.1% to 2% over the coming year.

That was essentially unchanged from the October survey. But the proportion of business economists who expect significantly stronger growth of 2.1% to 3% jumped to 30% from 20% in the previous survey in October.


Gas prices fall 4 cents a gallon to $2.60 in past 2 weeks

CAMARILLO, Calif. (AP) — The average U.S. price of regular-grade gasoline has declined 4 cents a gallon to $2.60 over the past two weeks.

Industry analyst Trilby Lundberg of the Lundberg Survey says the pump price responded to a drop in crude oil costs.

The highest average price in the nation for regular-grade gas is $3.58 a gallon in Honolulu. The lowest average is $2.16 in Houston.

The average price of diesel is $3.05, down 2 cents.


Hospital group fights drug shortages by making needed meds

UNDATED (AP) — U.S. hospitals fed up with shortages of critical medicines — mostly generic drugs that aren’t profitable — have banded together.

Seven hospital systems and three philanthropies formed nonprofit CivicaRx in 2018 to produce what they need. The group now includes 1,200 hospitals nationwide — about 1 in 4 — and already is shipping medicines.

Shortages of antibiotics, pain, cancer and other injected medications disrupt care and cost hospitals about $590 million annually. That’s for expenses including long hours that pharmacy staff spend trying to find the scarce drugs and buying costlier alternatives if there aren’t better options. Hospitals sometimes must use inferior drugs or delay treatment.

Last week, Civica said it’s creating a subsidiary with Blue Cross Blue Shield to produce some generics whose prices have spiked as much as 300% in the 2010s. They’ll be available in two years, not just for hospitals, but for patients, pharmacies and others.


UK introduces new fast-track visa to attract scientists

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has introduced a new fast-track visa to attract more of the world’s best scientists to the U.K. in hopes of creating a global science “superpower.” Johnson paired the reforms of the Global Talent route with a pledge of $392 million for research into advanced mathematics. The money will help fund researchers and doctoral students whose work in math underpins myriad developments such as safer air travel, smart phone technology and artificial intelligence.

The new visa route will have no cap on the number of people able to come to the U.K. under the program. It starts next month.

Britain is facing its biggest immigration shake-up in decades after it leaves the EU Friday.

After Brexit, EU citizens will lose the automatic right to live and work in the U.K., and Britons to settle in the bloc’s 27 remaining nations.

That has sparked fears Britain may face shortages in key job areas.


Workers criticize Amazon on climate despite risk to jobs

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Hundreds of employees are openly criticizing Amazon’s record on climate change despite what they say is a company policy that puts their jobs at risk for speaking out.

On Sunday, more than 300 employees of the online retail giant signed their names and job titles to statements on blog post on Medium. The online protest was organized by a group called Amazon Employees For Climate Justice, an advocacy group founded by Amazon workers that earlier this month said the company had sent letters to its members threatening to fire them if they continued to speak to the press.

Amazon said that its policy on external communications is not new and is in keeping with other large companies. It said the policy applies to all Amazon employees and is not directed at any specific group.

An Amazon spokesperson says, “While all employees are welcome to engage constructively with any of the many teams inside Amazon that work on sustainability and other topics, we do enforce our external communications policy and will not allow employees to publicly disparage or misrepresent the company or the hard work of their colleagues who are developing solutions to these hard problems.”


India plans sale of debt-laden national carrier Air India

NEW DELHI (AP) — The Indian government plans to sell its entire stake in the national carrier Air India to shore up falling revenues and privatize the airline.

A government document issued today invites initial expressions of interest in the airline, which has accumulated huge losses over the past decade. An initial attempt to sell the carrier last year failed to attract a single bidder.

Air India operates both domestic and international routes, has a debt burden of more than 580 billion rupees ($8 billion) and has been operating at a loss for years.

The government hopes to revive it through privatization. The new owner will be taking on a fleet of 121 Air India aircraft and 25 planes in the Air India Express fleet.


New documentary cloaks anonymous sources in ‘face doubles’

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Anonymous sources in documentaries have often been reduced to a shadowy, voice-distorted figure, or a pixelated blur. But a new documentary that premiered Sunday at the Sundance Film Festival has gone to greater lengths to preserve the secrecy of its sources while still conveying their humanity. “Welcome to Chechnya” is about an underground pipeline created to rescue LGBTQ Chechens from the Russian republic where the government has for several years waged a crackdown of gays. To mask the identities of gay Chechens in the film, the filmmakers used a sophisticated software program to digitally replace their faces. 

The faces seen in “Welcome to Chechnya” belong, in fact, to 22 volunteers whose faces were superimposed on the people in the film. Most of them are LGBTQ activists in New York. The “face doubles” were shot on a blue screen stage and converted into algorithms that, with machine learning, could digitally mask the subjects of the film. Different voices were substituted, too.

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