Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian shares extend losses on US blacklist, spread of virus

UNDATED (AP) — Shares have retreated in Asia after the U.S. included dozens more Chinese companies in a Commerce Department blacklist in another blow to markets already wracked with uncertainty over the pandemic.

The Shanghai Composite index dropped nearly 2% today and other regional markets also were mostly lower.

The discovery of a new, potentially more infectious strain of the coronavirus has countries around the world restricting travel from the United Kingdom, adding to worries over the possible economic consequences if it spreads to other countries or proves resistant to vaccines now being distributed.

Shares were mostly lower Monday on Wall Street and oil prices and Treasury yields also declined, a sign investors are increasingly jittery about the economic outlook.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-CONGRESS

Congress approves $900B COVID relief bill, sending to Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress has easily passed a $900 billion pandemic relief package. It promises to deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and resources to vaccinate a nation confronting a frightening surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Lawmakers tacked on a $1.4 trillion catchall spending bill and thousands of pages of other end-of-session business to create a massive bundle of bipartisan legislation.

The bill passed both the House and Senate in rapid succession Monday night and has been sent to President Donald Trump for his signature, expected in the coming days.

SURPRISE MEDICAL BILLS

Consumer relief: COVID bill to end ‘surprise’ medical bills

WASHINGTON (AP) — People with private health insurance will see the nasty shock of “surprise” medical bills virtually gone, thanks to the coronavirus compromise reached in Congress.

The charges that can run from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars come from doctors and hospitals that are outside the network of a patient’s health insurance plan.

It’s estimated that 1 in 5 emergency visits and 1 in 6 inpatient admissions will trigger a surprise bill. Although lawmakers of both parties long agreed that the practice was abusive billing, a lobbying war between doctors and insurers thwarted compromise.

HOLIDAY FORTUNES

The holidays could make or break struggling stores

NEW YORK (AP) — Clothing stores and specialty retailers are offering big discounts and heavily promoting curbside pickup in hopes of rescuing a lackluster holiday shopping season in which surging coronavirus cases have kept many shoppers at home.

For some, it could be their last chance at survival. And even a last-minute sales boost could be too late to save them.

The holiday season, which accounts for about 20% of the retail industry’s annual sales, has always been make-or-break for struggling stores. But it’s even more important this year as they look to make up for sales lost since the pandemic forced them to temporarily close locations.

That’s a big challenge given that the deadline to order online and get items in time for Christmas has passed. Retailers also can’t rely on big crowds of procrastinators because of restrictions on how many people can shop at once.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-ASIA

South Korea to curb social gatherings nationwide

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea will prohibit private social gatherings of more than five people and shut down ski resorts and major tourist spots nationwide starting from Christmas Eve as it contends with surging coronavirus infections.

The restrictions widen similar plans announced by authorities in the Seoul metropolitan area to a national level and are the most serious step the government has taken so far to reinstate social distancing after months of complacency. The measures will be in place at least until Jan. 3.

The capital area has been at the center of a viral resurgence in past weeks that has overwhelmed hospitals and increased death tolls and raised questions to how the government is handling the outbreak.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-RUSSIA VACCINE

Russia, AstraZeneca to test combination of COVID-19 shots

MOSCOW (AP) — Developers of the Russian coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V say they have signed an agreement with AstraZeneca to test a combination of the British drugmaker’s COVID-19 shots and a component of the vaccine created in Moscow.

The developers of Sputnik V proposed the approach to AstraZeneca last month, suggesting it could increase the effectiveness of the British vaccine. The company announced on Dec. 11 a study to test the combination, and on Monday signed a memorandum of cooperation with Moscow-based medical research facility the Gamaleya Institute, the Russian Direct Investment Fund and Russian drugmaker R-Pharm.

AstraZeneca developed its vaccine with Oxford University. The Gamaleya Institute developed Sputnik V, and the Russian Direct Investment Fund bankrolled the project.

AUSTRALIA-GOOGLE-FITBIT

Australian regulator delays decision on Google-Fitbit merger

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s competition regulator has delayed for three months its decision on Google’s plan to buy fitness gadget maker Fitbit for $2.1 billion despite the European Union giving conditional approval.

European Union regulators approved the deal after Google promised to restrict user data and ensure Android phones work with other wearable devices for at least 10 years. But the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said it was not prepared to accept a similar court-enforceable undertaking.

It will continue to investigate. Google said it was disappointed at the delay but would continue to engage with the ACCC to answer the regulators’ questions.

MEDIA-ELECTION

Fox, Newsmax shoot down their own aired claims on election

NEW YORK (AP) — Two election technology companies whose names have come up in President Donald Trump’s false charges of widespread voter fraud in the presidential election are fighting back. That has prompted unusual public statements from Fox News and Newsmax.

The statements, over the weekend and on Monday, came after the companies Smartmatic and Dominion raised the prospect of legal action for reporting what they said was false information about them.

Both companies were referenced in the campaign’s suggestion that vote counts in swing states were manipulated to the advantage of President-elect Joe Biden. The companies deny several statements made about them, and there is no evidence any voting system switched or deleted votes in the 2020 election.

MEDIA-NEWSPAPER APOLOGY

Kansas City newspaper reckons with its racial mistreatment

NEW YORK (AP) — The first significant attention that the Kansas City Star gave to hometown hero and jazz legend Charlie “Bird” Parker came when he died in 1955 — and the newspaper spelled his name wrong.

That detail came to light when the Star investigated, and apologized for, its mistreatment of Black citizens over many decades in a self-reckoning that came in a series of stories published on Sunday.

In its blunt self-assessment, the Star found that for many decades of its 140-year history, Black residents were rarely mentioned in anything but crime stories. It was a newspaper produced by white reporters and editors for white readers and advertisers.

President and editor Mike Fannin says the coverage was “egregious” and “failed to rise above the thinking of the time.”

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