Dow futures tank as new COVID variant in South Africa stokes concerns

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Concerns over the new COVID-19 variant discovered in South Africa hammered stock markets across the world Friday, sending all three of the major US indices down at least 1 percent.

Dow Jones Industrial Average futures fell more than 800 points at one point Friday morning. The index was last seen more than 2.25 percent lower in premarket trading.

Futures tied to the S&P 500 and Nasdaq were hit less hard, but still in negative territory. Both indices were last seen more than 1.8 percent and 1.1 percent lower, respectively.

The US sell-off comes after markets in Europe and Asia saw similar drops as investors around the world were gripped by warnings coming out of Africa about a new, potentially more infectious variant of COVID-19.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell more than 2 percent in Friday trading and Europe’s STOXX 600 index was down 2.7 percent in mid-day trading, set for its worst one-day drop in about a year.

Oil prices tumbled, too, with US crude futures down 6.6 percent to $73.20 per barrel, while Brent crude futures dropped by more than $4.50, or 5.6 percent, to $77.55 a barrel.

U.S. stock futures slumped Friday as global markets plunged.

The nosedives in global equities come as officials at the World Health Organization said they would hold a special meeting Friday to discuss the variant, which has been stoking concern among scientists who fear it may be more resistant to current vaccines.

The new variant has been found mostly to be present in South Africa, along with Botswana, Hong Kong and, most recently, Israel.

The United Kingdom on Thursday suspended all flights from six African countries due to the variant.

People queue to get vaccinated at a shopping mall in Johannesburg, South Africa. The U.K. has suspended flights to six African countries, including South Africa.

But much remains unknown about the variant, with much of the concern about its unusual combination of mutations.

Without clarity on the severity of the threat posed by the new variant, investors abandoned travel stocks that have rallied amid the global recovery from the pandemic and instead piled into so-called work-from-home stocks like Peloton and Zoom, which were last seen trading 6.5 percent and 9.3 percent higher, respectively.