Europe Markets

European stocks close down 3.7% amid concerns over new Covid variant; worst day since June 2020

Key Points
  • Concerns over a new variant of Covid started to rise, with the U.K. suspending flights from six countries in southern Africa.
  • The new Covid variant has more than 30 mutations to the spike protein, and the WHO is holding a special meeting Friday to discuss what it may mean for vaccines and treatments.
  • To be sure, the U.N. health agency has said it will take weeks to understand how the variant may impact diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

LONDON — European stocks plummeted on Friday amid fears over a new highly mutated variant of Covid-19.


The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed down 3.7%, with travel and leisure stocks cratering 8.8% to lead losses as all sectors and major bourses slid sharply into negative territory. The benchmark saw its biggest percentage decline since June 2020, according to Reuters data.

European investors were already monitoring the acute Covid crisis in the region amid rising infections that prompted a handful of countries to introduce new restrictions.

Italy announced Wednesday evening that it will introduce tighter measures and Germany has narrowly avoided another lockdown, with the incoming government reportedly wanting to wait to see if tighter Covid passport rules help to alleviate rising cases.

But overnight, concerns over a new variant of Covid started to rise, with the U.K. suspending flights from six countries in southern Africa. The new Covid variant has more than 30 mutations to the spike protein, according to South African scientists, and the WHO is holding a special meeting Friday to discuss what it may mean for vaccines and treatments.

Cases have so far been reported in South Africa, Botswana, Israel, Hong Kong and Belgium.

To be sure, the U.N. health agency has said it will take weeks to understand how the variant may impact diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

On Wall Street, stocks dropped sharply with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping 1,000 points, or 2.8%, for its worst day of the year, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq indexes fell 2.3% and 2.2%, respectively.

Friday is a shortened trading day stateside because of the Thanksgiving holiday, with U.S. markets set to close at 1 p.m. ET.

Shares in Asia-Pacific were also hit hard on Friday, with Hong Kong's Hang Seng index and Japan's Nikkei 225 both shedding more than 2.5% to lead losses.

Read more: A heavily-mutated Covid variant emerges in southern Africa: Here's what we know so far

Pharma stocks climb, travel plummets

At the bottom of the Stoxx 600, British-American cruise operator Carnival plunged more than 16% on the back of the variant news, leading a broad decline for travel and leisure stocks that also saw the likes of British Airways parent IAG, Tui, Rolls-Royce and Airbus tumble.

On the opposite end of the benchmark, Swiss online pharmacy Zur Rose Group and Luxembourg-based lab testing company Eurofins Scientific climbed 8.6% and 7.9%, respectively.

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- CNBC's Ryan Browne contributed to this report.