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What's Happening: Mask hoarders rebuked, Olympics delay eyed

BERLIN – As the new coronavirus continues spreading, people are being asked to stop hoarding masks and athletes are being advised to refrain from high-fives.

These are some of the latest developments Tuesday:

MASK HOARDERS REBUKED

Mask hoarders, take note. The head of the World Health Organization says hoarding is disrupting the global supply of such personal protective equipment, which doctors and nurses need to care for patients infected with the new coronavirus. Panic buying of masks has been a problem in several countries. In France, the government is requisitioning supplies. In the U.S., officials moved to ease the shortage by giving health care workers the OK to use an industrial mask designed to protect construction workers from dust and debris. And as people wiped store shelves clean of hand sanitizers, Purell said it's pumping up production.

US CUTS BENCHMARK RATE AS DEATHS CLIMB

Amid worries that spreading virus could trigger a recession, the Federal Reserve unexpectedly announced its biggest interest-rate cut in a decade. Just last week, several Fed officials had said they saw no urgent need to cut rates. But Fed Chairman Jerome Powell says there's since been a broader spread of the virus. “We saw a risk to the economy, and we chose to act," he says. The move comes as U.S. deaths tied to the virus inched up to nine. Most were residents of a nursing home in suburban Seattle.

EYES ON THE OLYMPICS

Japan’s Olympic minister says the country's contract to hold the Tokyo Games only specifies the event has to be held during the year 2020. Seiko Hashimoto’s response to a question in the upper house of parliament implies the Summer Olympics could be held later in the year. But the International Olympic Committee pushed back at the idea, issuing a statement expressing its commitment to Tokyo Games "taking place from July 24 to Aug. 9, 2020.”

NO MORE NBA HIGH-FIVES

Deflating news for NBA fans hoping for a high-five from their favorite players: The league is recommending players avoid such contact to reduce the risk of getting sick. A memo to players also says not to take pens and jerseys from fans seeking autographs, and offers reminders on general best practices to reduce the spread of germs, like staying home when feeling ill. The advice comes after health officials in some parts of Europe advised against handshakes and cheek-kissing.

BRITAIN COULD TAP RETIRED DOCTORS, NURSES

In a worst-case scenario, Britain warned millions could be infected and that retired doctors and nurses could be called back to work. The plans come as the coronavirus crisis appeared to push westward, with case counts growing with alarming speed in South Korea, Iran and Italy. China, by contrast, continued to see signs of relief as hundreds of patients were released from hospitals. The number of new infections in the country also dropped to 125 on Tuesday, the lowest in several weeks.

AS VIRUS SPREADS, POLLUTION EBBS

As airlines cancel flights and employees work from home to contain the virus, China is experiencing clearer skies. The country has closed factories and curtailed travel, resulting in a noticeable reduction in emissions. Researchers in Finland say China’s carbon emissions were 25% lower in the four weeks following the end of the Lunar New Year holiday compared with the same time last year. Experts say the trend is unlikely to hold.

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Ken Moritsugu in Beijing, Daria Litvinova in Moscow, Lori Hinnant in Paris, Jill Lawless in London, Tim Reynolds in Miami, Joseph Pisani in New York, Gene Johnson and Carla K. Johnson in Seattle, Christina Larson, Martin Crutsinger and Christopher Rugaber in Washington, D.C. contributed to this report.

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Follow all AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak