Australia shares fall as new virus strain clouds recovery hopes

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Australia shares fall as new virus strain clouds recovery hopes

* NSW sees lowest daily COVID-19 infections in five days

* Energy stocks see worst day in over 1-1/2 months

* NZ marks best session since mid-August, up 1.9% (Updates to close)

Dec 22 (Reuters) – Australian shares fell more than 1% on Tuesday as a fast-spreading new coronavirus strain in Britain triggered travel restrictions all over the world and threatened to disrupt a nascent global economic recovery.

Several countries across the globe have shut their borders to Britain after the country identified a mutated variant of the novel coronavirus that has killed about 1.7 million people worldwide.

Australia continued its efforts to contain a virus outbreak in its most populous state, New South Wales, which reported its lowest one-day rise in fresh cases in five days amid stringent lockdowns in the affected suburbs.

“The COVID-19 outbreak is obviously having an effect on confidence here,” said Henry Jennings, a senior analyst at the Marcus Today financial newsletter.

“It doesn’t matter how many cases there are, the physical problem is that if people can’t do what they normally do and can’t spend like they normally spend, it will certainly slow the economic recovery.”

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 1.1% to 6,599.6, its lowest close since Dec. 2.

Energy stocks slumped 2.8% in their biggest drop since Oct. 29, as oil prices sank on border closures in several countries to contain the new virus strain. Woodside Petroleum and Santos lost 3.1% and 3.3%, respectively.

Industry giants BHP Group and Rio Tinto led losses among heavyweight miners, which slipped 2.3%.

Gold stocks also booked heavy losses with Newcrest Mining shedding 2.1% while Northern Star Resources gave up 3.4%.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index ended 1.9% higher at 12,842.69, marking its best single-day performance since Aug. 17.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare added 3.6%, while Meridian Energy climbed 2.9%. (Reporting by Arpit Nayak in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

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