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PRECIOUS-Gold steady as UK vaccine approval counters faltering dollar

 (Updates prices)
    * Dollar hits lowest level since April 2018 
    * First case of new virus variant detected in the United
States
    * Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus:
tmsnrt.rs/3mvcUoa

    By Asha Sistla
    Dec 30 (Reuters) - Gold prices held steady on Wednesday, as
Britain's approval of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by
AstraZeneca         and Oxford University drove appetite for
risk and a weaker dollar limited bullion's losses in thin
holiday trade.
    Spot gold        was little changed at $1,877.87 per ounce
by 1205 GMT. U.S. gold futures        were down 0.1% to
$1,881.80.
    "You have the vaccine news which is a bit positive (for the
economy) but the dollar is still quite weak after approval of
the U.S. fiscal stimulus," said Bank of China International
analyst Xiao Fu.
    European stocks gained after Britain became the first to
approve the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford
University.                   
    However, underpinning gold, the dollar index        hit a
more than two-year low, as traders shrugged off Republican
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's decision to delay a
vote on increasing COVID-19 relief checks to $2,000.
                  
    Gold is seen as a hedge against inflation and currency
debasement likely to result from large stimulus measures.
    "The bigger picture is that gold is still holding up
incredibly well at these price levels and the fiscal and
monetary stimulus will still be there in 2021 as the pandemic is
hitting hard in the U.S., Europe," said Bank of China
International's Fu.
    Investors await the Jan. 5 Georgia runoff elections that
will determine which political party will control the U.S.
Senate, with expectations for more stimulus under a
Democrat-controlled Senate and House.             
    "Exchange-traded fund flows are set to have a major say on
how gold performs over the course of 2021, with investors
expected to wade further out into risk-on waters," said FXTM
market analyst Han Tan.          
    Among other precious metals, silver        was up 0.4% to
$26.28 an ounce, platinum        gained 1.1% to $1,060.68 and
palladium        rose 0.7% to $2,344.72.

 (Reporting by Asha Sistla and Nakul Iyer in Bengaluru; editing
by Barbara Lewis and Susan Fenton)
  
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