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The general performance of the Asia-Pacific markets was subpar as the region is experiencing the impact of new Covid variant B.1.1.529.
Hong Kong and Singapore led a stock slump of Asia-Pacific markets in the face of growing fears over a new Covid variant called B.1.1.529. The Hang Sang index of Hong Kong dropped by 2.67% on Friday to close at 24,080.52. The Japanese Nikkei 225 shed 2.53% to close at 28,751.62, while the Topix index fell by 2.01% to 1,984.98. Kospi in South Korea ended the session 1.47% lower at 2,936.44, while the Australian S&P/ASX 200 dipped 1.73% to finish at 7,279.30. However, according to official estimates released on Friday, Australia’s retail sales for October surged by 4.9% month-on-month, seasonally adjusted. This represents a much higher actual figure than the 2.5% increase prediction from a Reuters poll.
The Shanghai Composite of mainland China dipped 0.56% to end at 3,564.09, while the Shenzhen Component closed at 14,777.17 – 0.342% lower. Also, shares of Softbank Group substantially slumped by 5.19%. This apparently happened after a Bloomberg report stated that Chinese regulators asked Didi (NYSE: DIDI) to delist from the US. Softbank holds a substantial stake in Didi.
The Japanese yen strengthened on Friday as investors seemingly took refuge in its safe-haven status. The currency last traded at 114.07 to a dollar, compared to the levels above 115 per dollar witnessed earlier. In addition, the US dollar index was trading at 96.608, while the South African rand weakened by over 2% against the US dollar. Its last trading price was 16.3177 to a dollar.
Outside Asia-Pacific Region, Worldwide Agencies Take Surveillance and Precautionary Measures Over the New Covid Variant
According to the World Health Organization, a meeting will take place on Friday to discuss the implications of B.1.1.529, which has a “large number of mutations.” According to the WHO, multiple mutations are a serious problem because each one might behave differently with each one. The global health agency added that it is currently monitoring the situation.
Generally, the new variant has mutations that directly affect antibody resistance. This means that as it mutates, there’s a chance that vaccines slowly become less effective against Covid.
According to Joe Phaahla, Minister of Health in South Africa, B.1.1.529 has been detected in some parts of the country. Specifics include Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. In addition, South African scientist Tulio de Oliveira stated that the new variant has over 30 spike protein mutations. Speaking at a South Africa Department of Health media briefing on Thursday, the scientist explained that the spike protein is a component of the virus that binds to cells.
In light of this new development, the UK government promptly banned all flights from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia, Eswatini, and Zimbabwe. This moratorium will begin from noon on Friday to at least 4 am local time on Sunday.
UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid described the B.1.1.529 situation as “potentially concerning”. Although there are no reported cases in the UK, the government is currently investigating the variant.