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Financial markets have been rattled by the emergence of the worst Covid-19 variant yet identified.
Shares have fallen sharply in the Asia-Pacific markets, oil prices have fallen and European markets are also expected to open sharply lower.
The variant, called B.1.1.529, contains an “extremely high number” of mutations that can help it avoid the body’s immune response, scientists have said.
These mutations mean that its tip protein looks different from the version that vaccines are designed to target.
Last night, England imposed travel restrictions on six South African countries, including South Africa, after data presented by South African researchers revealed that the variant also appears to be more transmissible and is already present in provinces across the country.
South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe have all been placed on England’s travel red list.
Two cases of B.1.1.529 have also been discovered in Hong Kong.
The news has triggered strong sales in the markets. Asia-Pacific stocks have suffered their biggest losses since August, with MSCIs the index for Asian equities outside Japan falls 2 per cent.
Japanese Nikkei has fallen 2.5%, with travel stocks among the major fallers. Japan Airlines has fallen by 6.5 per cent.
Hong Kongs Hang Seng the index has fallen 2.4% as concerns that the B.1.1.529 variant could exacerbate the pandemic prompted investors to rush towards the security of bonds, yen and dollar.
Michael Hewson, Chief Market Analyst at CMC Markets, says that the emergence of B.1.1.529 has triggered “a huge sale” in the Asia-Pacific market.
This variant, which is understood to contain up to 30 identified mutations, has prompted WHO officials to convene an emergency meeting to discuss what it means for the vaccine’s effectiveness as well as other treatments. The new strain has also prompted the UK government to implement flight bans from six African countries due to concerns about what this could mean for the infection rate and other contagious effects.
At present, it is understood that the number of cases is small, but due to the thin liquidity levels in Asia, which are traded as a result of the US holiday, the reaction seems to be oversized, with an increase in bonds, which sends interest rates to to fall, and gold higher.
Great Britain FTSE 100 index for blue-chip stocks is about to fall around 2% at open time, with losses seen across Europe.
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