(RTTNews) – Asian stocks slumped on Friday as the detection of a new, potentially vaccine-resistant variant of the coronavirus in South Africa touched global risk sentiment.

The new variant has been flagged down by scientists because of an alarming number of cutting edge mutations that could make the virus more resistant to vaccines.

Chinese stocks ended lower as a handful of local cases of Covid-19 in eastern China prompted the city of Shanghai to limit tourist activities and a neighboring city to cut public transport services.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite index slipped 20.09 points, or 0.56%, to 3,564.09, dragged down by semi-conductor and energy stocks.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index fell 659.64 points, or 2.67 percent, to 24,080.52.

Japanese stocks hit their lowest level in a month and the safe haven yen rallied as fears of a new variant of the coronavirus raised fears for the global economic outlook.

The Nikkei average plunged 747.66 points, or 2.53%, to 28,751.62, closing below 29,000 for the first time in about a month. The broader Topix Index ended down about 2% at 1,984.98, with widespread selling.

Rail companies suffered heavy losses, with the Central Japan Railway, Western Japan Railway and Keisei Electric Railway losing 3-6%. All Nippon Airways’ parent company ANA Holdings fell 4.5% after raising funds through a convertible bond sale.

Softbank Group lost 5.2% on a Bloomberg report that said Beijing asked Chinese giant Didi to pull out of New York City over data security concerns. The Japanese conglomerate is a significant investor in Chinese technology companies listed in the United States, including Didi and Alibaba.

Australian markets suffered their biggest drop in nearly two months, as concerns over the new South African variant of Covid eclipsed better-than-expected October retail sales data.

The benchmark S & P / ASX 200 fell 128 points, or 1.73% to close at 7,279.30, marking its biggest drop since October 1. The larger All Ordinaries Index finished down 137 points, or 1.77%, at 7,599.90.

Energy stocks had their worst session since September 2020 as oil prices fell amid new demand fears and concerns about oversupply. Oil Search, Woodside Petroleum and Santos fell about 5 percent each.

Travel stocks such as Qantas Airways, Corporate Travel Management and Flight Center Travel lost 5-7% after authorities warned the country may have to close its borders to travelers from the African nation if risks from the new strain were increasing.

Gold companies Evolution and Newcrest rose about 1% each as investors flocked to safe-haven stocks, including gold.

Seoul stocks have extended their losses for the fourth day in a row as the coronavirus evolves and spreads with worrying mutations.

Kospi’s average fell 43.83 points, or 1.47%, to close at 2,936.44, dragged down by the heavyweights in chemicals and tech. Banks resisted the weak trend, a day after the country’s central bank raised its policy rate to 1%.

New Zealand stocks fell, with the benchmark NZX 50 losing 165.72 points, or 1.30%, to 12,628.89 in its worst session since March 22.

Travel stocks led the declines, with Air New Zealand and Auckland International Airport ending down 2.5% and 2% respectively. Stride Property Group gave up 5% after carrying out a capital increase.

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