Australian shares fall as new coronavirus strain spooks market

Dec 22 (Reuters) - Australian shares fell on Tuesday, with energy and gold stocks leading the declines, as oil prices dropped and investors exited risky assets over concerns of a new highly transmissible coronavirus strain in Britain.

The S&P/ASX 200 index declined 0.3% by 0021GMT.

The new coronavirus strain, indentified in the UK, is said to be up to 70% more transmissible than the original. It has led to a shut-down of much of Britain and set off tighter restrictions in Europe.

India, Pakistan, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Russia, Jordan, Hong Kong, among others, have suspended travel for Britons, while Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman closed their borders completely to the UK.

Meanwhile, oil prices plunged as tighter restrictions and fresh travel curbs sparked worries about a slower recovery in fuel demand.

As a result, the Australian energy index tumbled more than 2% to hit its lowest since Nov. 23

Santos and Woodside Petroleum both fell as much as 2.4% to each touch a near three-week low.

Gold stocks declined about 2% as bullion prices fell.

Ramelius Resources shed over 5% to hit a one-week low, while Silver Lake Resources fell more than 4%. The wider mining sub-index fell as much as 1.3%.

Bucking the downward trend, healthcare stocks gained 0.5%, with CSL adding about 1% and Fisher and Paykel Healthcare gaining about a percent.

MGC Pharmaceuticals jumped 16.7% after it was granted an assistance of 3.1 million euros (A$5 million) cash grant from Malta Enterprise to set up a fully functional GMP facility for the production of ArtemiC in Malta.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index advanced 0.9% to 12,681.69.

Pacific Edge gained over 8% while Mercury NZ added over 5%. (Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)