AP News in Brief at 6:04 p.m. EST

February 28, 2020 3:30 PM

Wall Street has worst week since 2008 as S&P 500 drops 11.5%

Stocks sank around the globe again Friday as investors braced for more economic pain from the coronavirus outbreak, sending U.S. markets to their worst weekly finish since the 2008 financial crisis.

The damage from the week of relentless selling was eye-popping: The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 3,583 points, or 12.4%. Microsoft and Apple, the two most valuable companies in the S&P 500, lost a combined $300 billion. In a sign of the severity of the concern about the possible economic blow, the price of oil sank 16%.

The market's losses moderated Friday after the Federal Reserve released a statement saying it stood ready to help the economy if needed. Investors increasingly expect the Fed to cut rates at its next policy meeting in mid-March.

The Dow swung back from an early slide of more than 1,000 points to close around 350 points lower. The S&P 500 fell 0.8% and is now down 13% since hitting a record high just 10 days ago. The Nasdaq reversed an early decline to finish flat.

Global financial markets have been rattled by the virus outbreak that has been shutting down industrial centers, emptying shops and severely crimping travel all over the world. More companies are warning investors that their finances will take a hit because of disruptions to supply chains and sales. Governments are taking increasingly drastic measures as they scramble to contain the virus.

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Outbreak starts to look more like worldwide economic crisis

NEW YORK (AP) — The coronavirus outbreak began to look more like a worldwide economic crisis Friday as anxiety about the disease emptied shops and amusement parks, canceled events, cut trade and travel and dragged already slumping financial markets even lower.

More employers told their workers to stay home, and officials locked down neighborhoods and closed schools. The wide-ranging efforts to halt the spread of the illness threatened jobs, paychecks and profits.

“This is a case where in economic terms the cure is almost worse than the disease,'' said Jacob Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “When you quarantine cities ... you lose economic activity that you’re not going to get back.'

The list of countries touched by the illness climbed to nearly 60 as Mexico, Belarus, Lithuania, New Zealand, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Iceland and the Netherlands reported their first cases. More than 83,000 people worldwide have contracted the illness, with deaths topping 2,800.

The head of the World Health Organization announced that the risk of the virus spreading worldwide was “very high," citing the “continued increase in the number of cases and the number of affected countries.”

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Mexico confirms first 2 cases of coronavirus

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico's assistant health secretary announced Friday that the country now has two confirmed cases of the new coronavirus.

Hugo Lopez-Gatell said one of the patients is in Mexico City and the other in the northern state of Sinaloa. While a second test is still pending on that case, he said, “We are treating this as confirmed.” Neither is seriously ill; one is in isolation at a hospital, the other is isolated at a hotel.

At least five family contacts of the first patient have been placed in isolation. He said the men had traveled to the northern Italian region where there has been an outbreak and had returned to Mexico between last Friday and Saturday.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador appeared to downplay the seriousness of the COVID-19 virus, saying “it isn't even equivalent to flu."

Seasonal flu kills more people because it has infected far more people, but the new virus appears to have a far higher mortality rate.

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US, Taliban set peace signing for America's longest war

WASHINGTON (AP) — America's longest war may finally be nearing an end.

The United States and the Islamists it toppled from power in Afghanistan are poised to sign a peace deal Saturday after a conflict that outlasted two U.S. commanders in chief and is now led by a third eager to fulfill a campaign promise to extricate America from “endless wars."

More than 18 years since President George W. Bush ordered bombing in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the agreement will set the stage for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, some of whom were not yet born when the World Trade Center collapsed on that crisp, sunny morning that changed how Americans see the world.

Saturday's ceremony also signals the potential end of a tremendous investment of blood and treasure. The U.S. spent more than $750 billion, and on all sides the war cost tens of thousands of lives lost, permanently scarred and indelibly interrupted. Yet it's also a conflict that is frequently ignored by U.S. politicians and the American public.

In the Qatari capital of Doha, America’s top diplomat will stand with leaders of the Taliban, Afghanistan's former rulers who harbored Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network as they plotted, and then celebrated, the hijackings of four airliners that were crashed into lower Manhattan, the Pentagon and a field in western Pennsylvania, killing almost 3,000 people.

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The big crunch: For 2020 Dems, March is key in delegate race

WASHINGTON (AP) — March is crunch time for Democratic presidential candidates, with a nominee likely to emerge over the next several weeks, if not sooner.

Nearly two-thirds of the party’s national delegates are up for grabs in a 30-day time period starting with Saturday’s South Carolina primary. The biggest prizes come on Tuesday, when 1,344 delegates will be at stake in 14 states and American Samoa.

If one candidate can emerge from Super Tuesday with a significant lead in the delegate count, it would be very difficult for anyone to catch up. If that same candidate racks up big victories the following two weeks, when 10 more states and the Northern Mariana Islands have contests, the race would be all but over.

Bernie Sanders is the clear front-runner after winning New Hampshire and Nevada, and essentially tying with Pete Buttigieg in Iowa. If any of the other candidates hope to stop him, they have to start now.

“Starting with Super Tuesday, we shift from the momentum race to the delegate race,” Virginia Tech political scientist Caitlin Jewitt said in an email. She said during the next month, “if Sanders can rapidly amass delegates and expand his delegate lead, it is more likely that his competitors will begin to see his nomination as inevitable and withdraw from the race.”

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NOT REAL NEWS: An outbreak of virus-related misinformation

In this week's roundup of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week, we focus on false and misleading reports spreading online around the new coronavirus outbreak, a situation the World Health Organization has dubbed an “infodemic.”

China attempted to contain COVID-19 that emerged in Wuhan in late 2019 through travel restrictions and city lockdowns, but the virus has now spread to 50 countries and infected more than 83,000 people.

False posts online have distorted symptoms of the virus and peddled miracle cures. Members of the public are urged to follow the advice of established institutions like WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and to beware of claims suggesting ways to prevent the virus.

Here are some of the claims spreading online, and the facts you need to know about them.

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Court temporarily halts Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Dealing a significant blow to a signature Trump administration immigration policy, a federal appeals court ruled Friday that the government can no longer make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico while their cases wind through U.S. immigration courts.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco also decided to keep another major policy on hold, one that denies asylum to anyone who enters the U.S. illegally from Mexico.

The twin setbacks for the Trump administration may prove temporary if it appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has consistently sided with President Donald Trump on immigration and border security policies.

The “Remain in Mexico” policy, known officially as "Migrant Protection Protocols," took effect in January 2019 in San Diego and gradually spread across the southern border. Nearly 60,000 people have been sent back to wait for hearings, and officials believe it is a big reason why illegal border crossings plummeted about 80% from a 13-year high in May.

Reaction to the decision was swift among immigration lawyers and advocates who have spent months fighting with the administration over a program they see as a humanitarian disaster, subjecting hundreds of migrants to violence, kidnapping and extortion in dangerous Mexican border cities. Hundreds more have been living in squalid encampments just across the border, as they wait for their next court date.

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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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Liberal gun owners face dilemma in 2020 field

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Like many liberals, Lara Smith considers herself a feminist, favors abortion rights and believes the nation’s immigration policies under the Trump administration have just been “vile.”

But when it comes to guns, Smith sounds more like a conservative: She opposes reviving the nation's assault weapons ban, enacting red-flag laws or creating a registry of firearms. The 48-year-old California lawyer owns a cache of firearms, from pistols to rifles such as the AR-15.

Smith and liberal gun owners like her face a quandary as voting in the Democratic primary intensifies with Super Tuesday next week. They are nervous about some of the gun control measures the Democratic candidates are pushing and are unsure who to trust on this issue.

“You’re alienating a huge part of your constituency,” Smith says of the Democratic field’s gun proposals. “You have a huge constituency that is looking for something different and when you are talking about restricting a right which is so different than everything else you talk about, you are being anti-liberal.”

Gun owners have long been seen as a solidly Republican voting bloc, but there are millions of Democrats who own firearms, too.

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Turkey, Russia talk tensions in Syria as migrants push west

REYHANLI, Turkey (AP) — The presidents of Turkey and Russia spoke by phone Friday to try to defuse tensions that rose significantly in Syria after 33 Turkish troops were killed in an airstrike blamed on the Syrian government, and a new wave of refugees and migrants headed for the Greek land and sea border after Turkey said it would no longer hold them back.

The attack Thursday marked the deadliest day for the Turkish military since Ankara first entered the Syrian conflict in 2016 and also was the most serious escalation between Turkish and Russian-backed Syrian forces, raising the prospect of an all-out war with millions of Syrian civilians trapped in the middle.

It was not clear whether Syrian or Russia jets carried out the strike, but Turkey blamed Syria's government and Russia denied responsibility.

NATO envoys held emergency talks at the request of Turkey, a NATO member. Turkey's 28 allies also expressed their condolences over the deaths and urged deescalation, but no additional NATO support was offered.

Apart from providing some aerial surveillance over Syria, NATO plays no direct role in the conflict. But its members are deeply divided over Turkey’s actions there, and European allies are concerned about any new wave of refugees.