By Olivia Bugault
European airline and travel stocks fell Friday morning amid concern about a new coronavirus variant identified in South Africa, rising Covid-19 cases in Europe and increased restrictions to stop the spread of the virus.
The U.K. has already halted flights from several African countries, and the European Union is also looking at banning flights from the region.
Aviation companies Airbus SE and Safran SA are among the three biggest losers on French index CAC 40 with shares down 9.4% and 8%, respectively at 0958 GMT, while all major European airlines recorded heavy losses on the news. Air France-KLM traded 8.4% lower, while shares in International Consolidated Airlines Group SA fell 11.2% and Deutsche Lufthansa AG shares dropped 10.8%.
A fast-spreading new variant of the coronavirus is causing rising concerns and the World Health Organization called for a meeting Friday to discuss whether it should be classified as "variant of concern." The new strain has a large number of mutations, according to scientists, and vaccines may be less effective against it.
Countries are starting to take measures against the new variant. Late Thursday the U.K. Government moved six African countries to its travel red list and issued a temporary flight ban on them. From 1200 GMT on Friday anyone traveling from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe will need to quarantine upon arrival in the U.K., and take tests.
The EU has moved to take similar measures. "The European Commission will propose, in close coordination with member states, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529," Ursula von der Leyen, president of the commission, said in a tweet early Friday.
European equity markets tumbled at the open.
Tourism-related stocks were also in the red on stock exchanges this morning with hotel groups Accor SA and InterContinental Hotels Group PLC down 5.5% and 5.9%, respectively, while cruise operator Carnival PLC was down 13% and French commercial real-estate company Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield SE fell 9.2%.
The new variant adds to a recent bulk of bad news in Europe related to surging Covid-19 infections. "The autumn wave of the pandemic is hitting parts of core Europe hard," Berenberg said. Austria returned into lockdown this week and "near-term, the key risk to watch is whether Germany will have to follow Austria into a full-scale lockdown," the brokerage said. Other countries also tightened measures to fight the pandemic though few have decided on lockdowns so far.
Write to Olivia Bugault at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires