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Travel shock: People leaving a hotel at the Chek Lap Kok airport in Hong Kong. It confirms two cases of the new strain in travellers arriving in the city. — AFP

NEW YORK: Investors dumped risk assets and flocked to havens yesterday as a new variant of the coronavirus made its presence known in global markets.

Fears the variant first discovered in South Africa may spread internationally – thwarting the global economic recovery – pushed global bonds and the yen higher while the rand fell to its lowest in a year.

Asian stocks, US and eurozone equity futures dropped amid the risk-off tone and crude oil retreated.

While researchers are yet to determine whether the B.1.1529 variant is more transmissible or lethal than previous ones, authorities around the world have been quick to act.

The UK and Israel temporarily banned flights from South Africa and five neighbouring countries as a precautionary measure.

Hong Kong confirmed two cases of the new strain in travellers arriving in the city, the government said Thursday evening.

That was enough to push traders to act first and ask questions later, given the lack of information about the variant.

“There is some risk off happening from Japan to Africa due to concerns around a new virus variant being found in South Africa but the good thing is countries such as UK are acting fast to curtail its spread,” said Justin Tang, head of Asian Research at United First Partners.

“Given that the world has gone through this before with Delta, there is already a playbook for such situations – even if the new variant overstays.”

Treasuries jumped across the curve. The 10-year yield – the global bond benchmark – dropped nine basis points to 1.54% as cash trading resumed following the US Thanksgiving holiday.

German 10-year rates slumped seven basis points to minus 0.32% while money markets trimmed rate-hike bets, expecting the European Central Bank to tighten six basis points by the end of next year, less than on Thursday.

The yen climbed as much as 0.7%, while emerging-market currencies including the rand, Mexican peso and Turkish lira, slumped more than 1%.Airlines and other travel stocks across Asia were among the biggest decliners as traders reacted to the prospect of further flight curbs.

Oil retreated as the new strain raised concerns about the outlook for energy demand before the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and allies meet next week on its production policy.

Opec plus meets Dec 2 to decide output for January following the unprecedented move by the United S tates and other nations to tap strategic stockpiles to tame rising energy prices.

Meanwhile, a Bloomberg-compiled basket of Asian stay-at-home shares – including video games, Internet services and health-care names – outperformed in early trading.

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