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Financial Pain Deepens Due to Virus    02/28 06:24

   TOKYO (AP) -- A deepening health crisis became an economic one too Friday, 
with the virus outbreak sapping financial markets, emptying shops and 
businesses, and putting major sites and events off limits. 

   As the list of countries hit by the illness grew to 57 with Belarus, 
Lithuania, New Zealand, Nigeria, Azerbaijan and the Netherlands reporting their 
first cases, the threats to livelihoods were increasingly eyed as warily as the 
threats to lives.

   "It's not cholera or the black plague," said Simone Venturini, the city 
councilor for economic development in Venice, Italy, where tourism already hurt 
by historic flooding last year has sunk with news of virus cases. "The damage 
that worries us even more is the damage to the economy."

   Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health 
Organization, said the outbreak "has pandemic potential," but whatever 
terminology officials used, the rippling effects were clear.

   Attractions including Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan announced 
closures and events that expected tens of thousands, including a tour by the 
K-pop group BTS, were called off. 

   Investors watched warily as stocks fell across Asia and girded to see if 
Wall Street's brutal run would continue, while businesses both small and large 
saw weakness and people felt it in their wallets.

   "There's almost no one coming here," said Kim Yun-ok, who sells doughnuts 
and seaweed rolls at Seoul's Gwangjang Market, where crowds were thin Friday as 
South Korea counted 571 new cases --- more than China. "I am just hoping that 
the outbreak will come under control soon."

   In Italy, where the count of 650 cases is growing, hotel bookings were 
dropping and Premier Giuseppe Conte raised the specter of recession. 
Shopkeepers like Flavio Gastaldi, who has sold souvenirs in Venice for three 
decades, wondered if they could survive the blow.

   "We will return the keys to the landlords soon," he said.

   The economic hurt came with anger in Bangkok, where tenants at the Platinum 
Fashion Mall staged a flash mob, shouting "Reduce the rent!" and holding signs 
that said "Tourists don't come, shops suffer. "

   Kanya Yontararak, a 51-year-old owner of a women's clothing store, said her 
sales have sunk as low as 1,000 baht ($32) some days, making it a struggle to 
pay back a loan for her lease. She's stopped driving to work, using public 
transit instead, packs a lunch instead of buying, and is cutting her grocery 
bills. The situation is more severe than the floods and political crises her 
store has braved in the past.

   "Coronavirus is the worst situation they have ever seen," she said of the 
merchants.

   Some saw dollar signs in the crisis, with 20 people in Italy arrested for 
selling masks they fraudulently claimed provided complete protection from 
COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Police said they were selling them 
for as much as 5,000 euros ($5,520) each.

   Japan's schools prepared to shutter and the country's Hokkaido island 
declared a state of emergency, with its governor urging residents to stay home 
over the weekend. The Swiss government banned events with more than 1,000 
people, while at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany, basins of holy water were 
emptied for fear of spreading germs.

   Globally, more than 83,000 people have fallen ill with the coronavirus. 
China, though hardest hit, has seen lower numbers of new infections, with 327 
additional cases reported Friday, bringing the country's total to 78,824. 
Another 44 people died there for a total of 2,788.

   South Korea has recorded 2,337 cases, the most outside of China. Emerging 
clusters in Italy and in Iran, which has had 34 deaths and 388 cases, have in 
turn led to infections of people in other countries.


(KR)

 
 
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