More than $ 65 billion was deleted from the UK’s main stock index on Friday, reflecting fears that a new variant of the coronavirus could wreak havoc on business and international travel.
The FTSE 100 fell more than 3%, or 240 points, as the market opened on Friday morning, putting it on its way to its biggest overnight drop in a year.
Shares in major airlines fell with IAG, the owner of British Airways, falling by more than 21% at the start of trading, while EasyJet fell 16%. The UK government has said it will add six countries, including South Africa, to its red list, with flights temporarily banned.
A number of other European countries, including Italy and Germany, were also preparing to ban travelers from South African countries.
Rolls-Royce engine maker and oil giants BP and Shell were also among the big declines.
Overnight, Asian markets suffered their biggest drop in two months after the discovery of a coronavirus variant possibly resistant to the vaccine.
The variant, designated B.1.1.529 and first identified in Botswana, has a “very unusual constellation” of mutations that could help it evade vaccine immunity and natural antibodies, scientists have said. On Friday morning, Israeli health authorities said they had discovered their first case of the new variant.
Amid the stock shock, the pound also took a hammer blow, with the pound falling below $ 1.33 for the first time this year as investors lose their appetite for risk.
The new option has also prompted investors to lower their expectations for a Bank of England (BoE) interest rate hike in December, adding to the downward pressure on the pound.
European markets were hit hard at the start of trading, with Germany’s DAX falling 3.1%, and France’s CAC 40 down 3.6%.
Increasingly treated as a safe haven for investors during turbulent times, digital currencies like bitcoin and ethereum also fell by more than 5% and 3.7% respectively.
According to analysts at BayernLB, gold, a traditional investment for nervous traders, is currently in demand, as are the Swiss franc and US treasures.
Elsewhere, oil prices marked their sharpest daily decline since July in news of the variant, which UK health officials said was the most important one found to date, according to scientists. There are concerns that the variant could lead to a new wave of infections and travel restrictions, stifling economic growth.
European standard Brent crude oil fell nearly 5% to $ 78.15 a barrel. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) US crude fell 6.1 percent to $ 73.56 a barrel after hitting a two-month low.
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