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European markets retreat as omicron Covid variant fears return; Stoxx 600 down 1.2%

LONDON — European stocks pulled back on Thursday as concerns persisted over the omicron Covid variant.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 fell 1.2% in early trade, with tech stocks shedding 2.6% to lead losses as all sectors and major bourses slid well into the red.

Major markets across Asia-Pacific and the U.S. had bounced back Wednesday despite fears about the new variant and the Federal Reserve mulling a quicker-than-planned taper.

But global stocks appear to be struggling to regain momentum amid continuing uncertainty around the risks posed by the new omicron Covid variant, first spotted in South Africa last week and designated a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization.

The WHO said on Wednesday that at least 23 countries from five of six WHO regions have now reported cases of omicron, “and we expect that number to grow.” It also noted that hospitalizations are rising across South Africa, but said it’s still too early to know whether the omicron variant is driving an increase in severe Covid-19 cases.

Asia-Pacific markets were mixed Thursday while U.S. stock index futures pointed to a higher open, after selling off on Wednesday as the CDC confirmed the first known case of the omicron variant in the U.S.. The first case of the heavily mutated variant was detected in northern California.

Data releases on Thursday include the euro zone unemployment rate for October and producer prices for the same month.

At the top of the Stoxx 600, Vifor Pharma shares surged more than 12% in early deals on reports that Australian biotech giant CSL is in talks to buy the Swiss group for around $10 billion.

At the bottom of the European blue chip index, Britain’s Royal Mail fell more than 6%.

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