* Energy index slips 1.3% to drag index lower
* Insurance firms drop as court rules for insurers in test
* Bluescope Steel is top gainer in ASX200 on hiking earnings
Nov 19 (Reuters) - Australian shares slipped on Thursday, as
a fresh cluster of COVID-19 cases sparked a lockdown in the
state of South Australia while numbers in the United States also
soared, denting recent optimism over promising vaccine trial
The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.3% to 6,512.70 by
around 0026 GMT. The benchmark closed 0.5% higher on Wednesday.
Most businesses in South Australia will close except for
some food outlets, and people will be largely confined to their
homes, as the state tries to avoid a more severe breakout like
the one that all but shuttered neighbouring Victoria for more
than 100 days.
"The outbreak of COVID-19 in South Australia has
unsurprisingly generated considerable concern given it happened
so quickly and after a number of months without any locally
acquired transmission," analysts at ANZ wrote.
"Google searches for "COVID testing" in South Australia have
surged. The per capita level of searching is exceeding that of
Victoria during its peak," the analysts said.
U.S. drugmaker Pfizer said its COVID-19 vaccine was
95% effective and that it would apply for emergency U.S.
authorization within days, but that did little to support
Energy stocks fell, with sector heavyweight Woodside
Petroleum losing as much as 1% while Santos
Top insurer QBE Insurance Group fell 5.6% while
Suncorp Group shed 4.7% after a New South Wales court
ruled against insurers in a business interruption test case on
the pandemic's impact heard last month.
Shares of the country's second-largest insurer Insurance
Australia Group were on a trading halt pending an
announcement in response to the case.
Bucking the trend, Bluescope Steel was the top ASX
200 gainer with a 6.2% rise after the steelmaker raised earnings
outlook and forecast a recovery in demand from key markets.
New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell 0.3%,
with dairy company a2 Milk Company down most with a
(Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry