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Leap year computer concern passes with little fanfare

The last gasp of the Y2K bug has so far been a minor pest rather than a major headache, according to government agencies.

The leap year computer problem--the last gasp of the Y2K bug--has so far been a minor pest rather than a major headache, according to government agencies.

Although no major problems have been reported, a series of glitches occurred in Japan, Singapore and New Zealand that affected cash machines, bank transactions and travel voucher systems.

Officials feared that the leap year computer problem, a failure by computers to recognize the year 2000 as a leap year, would disrupt computer systems worldwide. U.S. government officials warned last week that systems stricken by the bug could mistake the last day of February as March 1.

There have been no reports of glitches in the United States or Europe. A team assembled at the White House command center for monitoring the Year 2000 rollover is monitoring the leap year transition; it is set to give press briefings today and tomorrow.

Although the White House has issued warnings of Y2K: The cost of fear possible problems related to the leap year, many analysts and observers consider the issue a nonevent.

Japan was hardest hit when the leap year problem affected a meteorological agency's observation system this morning, leading to false weather reports and preventing data transmission from the agency, the Japanese news organization Asahi Shimbun reported.

In other parts of the world, glitches have been minor. In New Zealand the government reported that as many as 4,000 shops had trouble verifying banking transactions, and in Singapore the subway system rejected some travelers' cards, Reuters reported.

The Hong Kong government clamped down on the Y2K readiness verification of ships coming into its harbors. Any ships containing essential equipment not tested and passed for Y2K compliance may not be permitted into Hong Kong's harbors between today and tomorrow.

Other significant dates have come and gone with little problem or fanfare. Last year, April 9, 1999--the 99th day of the year, expected to cause computer failures--passed with little concern. In addition, Sept. 9, 1999, also written as 9-9-99, was expected to cause numerous system malfunctions. A string of nines typically is used as a programming code to shut down a system, yet the date passed uneventfully, and computers remained online.

Because history has shown that other significant dates have passed without problems, most analysts believe the leap year date will go over without major failures, just like its New Year's predecessor.

Glitches or no glitches, the leap year problem will be the final show for the White House's point man on the Year 2000 technology problem, John Koskinen. His duty as chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion will end tomorrow.

Reuters contributed to this report.