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Australia: Shares fall as record virus cases dent investor sentiment

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[BENGALURU] 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 sentiment.

The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 1.3 per cent lower at 6,075.10 compared with a 2.6 per cent rise on Tuesday, its best session in over a month.

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 per cent of the new cases.

"The fact that metro Melbourne, which is about five 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.

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"New South Wales, the largest state,...(did not have) huge numbers but we all know how quickly it can get out of control," Mr Daglian added.

Healthcare stocks fell 3.2 per cent, marking their worst session since May 27, weighed down by industry behemoth CSL and Cochlear, each dropping nearly 4 per cent.

The world's largest miner BHP Group tumbled over 3 per cent to drag the metals and mining index 1.3 per cent down. Peer Rio Tinto declined 1.7 per cent.

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 per cent, with Wisetech and Afterpay each shedding over 3.5 per cent.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped 0.1 per cent to finish the session at 11,722.97.

Top losers were Restaurant Brands New Zealand losing 2.5 per cent, followed by Fisher & Paykel Healthcare closing 2 per cent down.

REUTERS

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