Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian shares slump after Trump announcement on virus plans

UNDATED (AP) — Shares fell in Asia today after President Donald Trump announced the U.S. was stepping up its efforts to combat the virus outbreak that began in China, as the number of cases surpassed 81,000.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index lost 2.1% today, while in Australia, the S&P ASX/200 dropped 0.8%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 0.8%.

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In South Korea, where 334 new cases of the virus were reported, the Kospi dropped 1%. The Shanghai Composite index rose 0.2%, while shares fell in Taiwan and most of Southeast Asia. Thailand’s benchmark rose 0.4% after tumbling 5.1% on Wednesday following reports of newly discovered virus cases.

Yesterday on Wall Street, the S&P 500 index fell 0.4% to 3,116.39. It’s on track for its biggest monthly decline since May. The Dow dropped 123.77 points, or 0.5%, to 26,957.59, for a three-day loss of 2,034 points. A modest rally in technology stocks helped nudge the Nasdaq composite to a 0.2% gain, to 8,980.77.

Smaller company stocks fell the most. The Russell 2000 index lost 0.5% to 1,724.76.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-FACEBOOK

Facebook bans ads with false claims about new virus

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Facebook says it is banning ads that make false claims about products tied to the new coronavirus. The company says it is removing ads that feature a product and imply a limited supply thus creating a false sense of urgency in their mention of coronavirus. Ads that guarantee a cure or prevention are also banned. For instance, Facebook says ads for face masks that claim the products are 100% guaranteed to prevent the spread of the virus are not allowed.

The ban went into effect this week and as the World Health Organization reported that the number of new cases outside China exceeded the number of new infections inside the country for the first time on Tuesday. The COVID-19 virus has now spread to at least 39 countries.

Facebook had previously banned ads, along with regular unpaid posts, that peddle fake cures such as drinking bleach.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-TRAVEL

Delta reduces flights to Korea as virus outbreak spreads

UNDATED (AP) — The new virus is taking a broader toll on airline travel. Most airlines have already stopped flying to China. Now Delta Air Lines is sharply cutting back on flights between the U.S. and Seoul, South Korea, and Hawaiian Airlines is suspending all its flights to Seoul because of the outbreak. Delta said Wednesday it will suspend flights between Minneapolis and Seoul beginning this weekend and lasting until at least April 30. The airline will also reduce the number of flights from Korea to Atlanta, Detroit and Seattle.

Delta, United and American have already suspended all flights to and from mainland China and Hong Kong for several more weeks.

Fear about the virus is hitting cruise lines and other travel companies hard too. Booking Holdings Inc., the parent of travel search and booking sites including Kayak and Priceline, said the virus had a significant and negative impact across their business in the first quarter.

Several airlines in Asia and the Middle East have suspended flights to other Asian countries besides China. The list includes Korean Air, Japan Airlines and Philippine Airlines. Singapore Airlines, hurt by weak demand, has suspended flights to several destinations in the U.S. and Europe.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-US-COMMUNITY SPREAD

New US coronavirus case may be 1st from unknown origin

NEW YORK (AP) — Health officials say new coronavirus case in California could be the first in the U.S. that has no known connection to travel abroad or another known case, a possible sign the virus is spreading in a community. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the case Wednesday night.

California officials said the person is a resident of Solano County, northeast of San Francisco, and is getting medical care in Sacramento County. They said they have begun the process of tracking down people who the patient has been in contact with, a process known as contact tracing.

All of the 59 other cases in the U.S. had traveled from abroad or had been in close contact with those who traveled. Health officials have been on high alert for so-called community spread.

GAS EXPLOSIONS

Utility to pay $53M for blasts that damaged homes, killed 1

BOSTON (AP) — Officials say a utility company will pay $53 million for breaking pipeline safety laws and causing a series of natural gas explosions that killed one person and damaged dozens of homes. Authorities said Wednesday that Columbia Gas of Massachusetts has agreed to plead guilty to violating the Pipeline Safety Act and pay the largest criminal fine ever imposed under the law. The explosions rocked three communities in the Merrimack Valley, north of Boston, in September 2018.

The company said in an emailed statement that it takes full responsibility for the disaster.

The company’s parent, Merrillville, Indiana-based NiSource Inc., also plans to sell the company and cease any gas pipeline and distribution activities in Massachusetts. Any profit from the sale of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts will be handed over to the federal government.

Eversource announced later Wednesday that it has agreed to buy the company’s natural gas assets in Massachusetts for $1.1 billion.

SPORTS BETTING-KANSAS

Kansas struggles with details of legalizing sports betting

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers who want to legalize betting on sports events and allow online sales of lottery tickets are struggling to agree on the details and are facing criticism that they’re being too generous toward companies already managing casinos for the state.

The state Senate voted 23-15 on Wednesday to approve a sports betting bill less than month after the Kansas City Chiefs’ victory in professional football’s Super Bowl highlighted how many Kansas fans likely placed wagers on the team out of state or illegally. Approval came after a four-hour debate and sent the bill to the House, but a committee there is working on its own legislation that is likely to differ significantly.

The Senate’s bill would allow people to place bets on sports events through four state-owned casinos managed by private companies through contracts with the Kansas Lottery, and the casino companies could take wagers through computer or cellphone apps. The measure also would allow limited state lottery ticket sales online.

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