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The Latest: Hong Kong announces anti-virus funds

BEIJING (AP) — The Latest on a new virus that originated in China (all times local): 8 p.m. Hong Kong’s leader unveiled a 25 billion Hong Kong dollar ($3.2 billion) fund on Friday to bolster efforts to fight the virus outbreak, as the city announced three new cases, bringing its total to 56.

The amount is more than double the 10 billion Hong Kong dollars ($1.3 billion) the government initially planned. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam says the government will subsidize companies producing masks to boost supply and provide 4.7 billion Hong Kong dollars ($605 million) more to the Hospital Authority. Lam says cash handouts will also be given to poor families, students and other groups hit by the epidemic, including travel agencies, property management firms and restaurants.

Lam, whose government has come under fire for its perceived mishandling of the outbreak, says her administration has “put in every effort” to fight the virus. She said the emergency funding reflects its commitment to protect the welfare of the city’s 7.4 million people.

7:45 p.m.

Singapore has confirmed nine new cases of the new virus, bringing its total to 67. Six are related to a church where seven people including a senior pastor were earlier diagnosed.

The Grace Assembly of God church has shut down its two premises for two weeks and quarantined all staff as it urged members to pray for a victory over the virus.

The Catholic Church, meanwhile, announced that all public Masses will be halted indefinitely from Saturday to minimize the spread of the virus. Archbishop of Singapore William Goh said temperature screening isn’t fool proof since those who are asymptomatic could be carriers of the virus. As such, Goh said Catholics need to play their part in containing the virus by avoiding large gatherings.

6 p.m.

Japan's health ministry says 11 elderly passengers on the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess were allowed to leave the vessel on Friday after they tested negative for the new virus.

They are the first group of dozens of elderly passengers expected to get off the ship before their 14-day quarantine period ends on Feb. 19 to reduce the risk of their health deteriorating.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato on Thursday said passengers age 80 or older with chronic health issues or in cabins without windows that can open will be able to leave the ship if they pass the virus test.

About 200 passengers in the age group took the test and more are expected to leave the ship in coming days.

5:45 p.m.

The owner of Jiaozibar, a Chinese restaurant in Nordmaling, a small town in northern Sweden, said he and his wife have voluntarily isolated themselves after a trip to China and have decided to protectively close their eatery until Feb. 27.

“We have been in China for a few weeks. We feel it is our responsibility to follow the guidelines of (Sweden’s) Public Health Authority and voluntarily quarantine ourselves. It is to protect ourselves and our customers,” Stanislav Maid told Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet.

He runs the restaurant with his wife, Zhou Weixiang. “I have gotten quite a lot of positive reaction from people in the area who think it’s good we take our responsibility,” he said.

The couple doesn’t feel sick but decided to close the restaurant protectively, Aftonbladet said.

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