World markets subdued amid virus worries, hope for help

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A man wearing a protective face mask walks by statues of bulls on display outside a bank in Beijing, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Asian stock markets took a breather from recent steep declines on Tuesday, with several regional benchmarks gaining more than 1% after New York futures reversed on news that President Donald Trump plans to ask Congress for a tax cut and other quick measures to ease the pain of the virus outbreak. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

TOKYO – European stock markets edged up Wednesday after Asian shares mostly declined, as governments were ramping up aid for economies reeling from the virus outbreak.

France's CAC 40 gained 0.8% to 4,673, while Germany's DAX rose 0.6% to 10,537. Britain's FTSE 100 added 0.4% to 5,984. U.S. shares were set to open lower with Dow futures down 2.5% and S&P 500 futures 2.6% lower.

The Bank of England cut its key interest rate by half a percentage point to 0.25% and offered financial liquidity measures in response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. The central bank said the move would “help support businesses and consumer confidence at a difficult time.”

Countries are shifting into damage-control as infections spread, prompting sweeping controls on travel, closures of schools and cancellations or postponements of sports events and many other public activities.

Italy's government announced $28 billion in financial support for health care, the labor market and families and businesses that face a cash crunch due to the country's nationwide lock down on travel.

Australia announced a $1.6 billion virus-fighting package and reportedly plans an additional $6.5 billion in economic stimulus. Japan and Thailand also have announced fresh help for businesses and workers.

Still, many investors remained cautious.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 lost 2.3% to finish at 19,416.06. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 plunged 3.6% to 5,725.90. South Korea's Kospi shed 2.8% to 1,908.27. Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.6% to 25,231.61, while the Shanghai Composite dipped 0.9% to 2,968.52.