* Healthcare sector marks worst day in near two months
* Citi downgrades BHP Group to "neutral" from "buy"
* NZ slips
July 22 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed lower on
Wednesday, dragged down by the healthcare sector, as a record
surge in COVID-19 cases in the country dented investor
The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 1.3% lower at 6,075.10
compared with a 2.6% rise on Tuesday, its best session in over a
Australia recorded 501 new coronavirus infections in the
past 24 hours, its highest since the epidemic took hold in
March, with Victoria state, of which Melbourne is the capital,
accounting for almost 97% of the new cases.
"The fact that metro Melbourne, which is about 5 million
people, has already been in a lockdown for the last couple of
weeks and still not seeing a drop in cases is probably something
to be a little concerned about," said Steven Daghlian, market
analyst at CommSec.
Neighbouring New South Wales state with 16 new cases was
put on "high alert" due to community transmission and COVID-19
cases in new places.
"New South Wales, the largest state,...(did not have) huge
numbers but we all know how quickly it can get out of control,"
Healthcare stocks fell 3.2%, marking their worst
session since May 27, weighed down by industry behemoth CSL Ltd
and Cochlear, each dropping nearly 4%.
The world's largest miner BHP Group tumbled over 3%
to drag the metals and mining index 1.3% down. Peer Rio
Tinto declined 1.7%.
Citi downgraded the Australia-listed shares of BHP Group to
"neutral" from "buy" after the mining giant lowered its full
year underlying forecast due to COVID-19 concerns.
Technology stocks fell 2.4%, with Wisetech
and Afterpay each shedding over 3.5%.
New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped
0.1% to finish the session at 11,722.97.
Top losers were Restaurant Brands New Zealand
losing 2.5%, followed by Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Corp
closing 2% down.
(Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru;
Editing by Vinay Dwivedi)