UK stocks sink as government widens strict COVID lockdowns

Britain became the first country to approve Oxford University and AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine, but a fast-spreading mutant strain of the virus is worrying investors.

Newly announced lockdowns in more regions of the country sent UK stocks lower Wednesday [File: Toby Melville/Reuters]

British stocks ended lower on Wednesday, reversing early gains as fears over a fast-spreading new strain of the coronavirus led to most of the country being placed under tighter restrictions, even as Britain approved AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine.

The blue-chip FTSE 100 lost 0.7 percent after hitting a fresh 10-month high in the previous session.

Miners and consumer stocks, mainly Rio Tinto, Anglo American, Diageo were the biggest drag on the index.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Wednesday more areas of England would be placed under the strictest COVID-19 restrictions as a highly infectious variant of the virus is spreading across the country.

“More lockdowns doesn’t help market sentiment in the short term. There will be an economic knock-on effect upon that,” said Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.

Britain is struggling to contain the coronavirus pandemic, with the country recording one of the world’s highest death tolls of approximately 65,000 by mid-December, while the emergence of a more infectious virus variant has compounded its problems.

Britain on Wednesday became the first country in the world to approve the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, hoping that rapid action will help it stem a record surge of infections.

Shares of AstraZeneca closed 0.8 percent lower.

“AstraZeneca said it will not look to profiteer from the vaccine which is fantastic for society, but the market saw it as selfish and ungrateful,” Mould said.

The mid-cap FTSE 250 index, considered a barometer of Brexit sentiment, shed 0.9 percent, although British lawmakers approved Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union.

In a positive turn for the economy, British house prices rose faster than expected in December to record their biggest annual increase in six years, mortgage lender Nationwide said.

In company news, Energean rose 3.8 percent after saying it would acquire the remaining 30-percent stake in its Israeli offshore fields.

Source: Reuters