Shares in British Airways-owner IAG and EasyJet have sunk amid a ban on flights from some African countries following the discovery of a new Covid variant.
IAG’s share price dropped by 15% while EasyJet’s fell by 14% in early trading.
The government announced last night that flights from six southern African countries would be stopped temporarily from midday on Friday.
Stock markets across the world fell on fears that the new Covid strain could hamper economic recovery.
London’s FTSE 100 tumbled by 2.7% while leading stock market indexes in Germany and France both fell by more than 3%. It followed similar declines on stock markets in Japan and Hong Kong overnight.
From midday, flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini into the UK will be banned until 04:00 GMT on Sunday.
All six counties are being added to the UK’s travel red list. It means that any British or Irish resident arriving from the countries after 04:00 on Sunday will have to quarantine in a hotel, with those returning before that being asked to isolate at home.
BA said: “We’ll be contacting affected customers with information about their flight.”
It added it was advising passengers to monitor the latest travel advice with the UK government and on the BA website.
Whizz Air’s share price also dropped, down more than 10%, while engineering giant Rolls-Royce, which makes engines for planes, saw its shares drop by 13%.
Sell-offs extended to travel companies such as the cruise group Carnival and Tui.
“Fear has gripped the financial markets with the travel industry flying into another violent storm,” said Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.
“With Europe still battling with the surge of a fourth wave of the virus, there are now fears that the highly mutated Covid strain discovered in states in Southern Africa will prompt fresh shutdowns around the world in an attempt to stop its spread, leading to another drag on recovery.”
A number of other countries – such as Germany, Italy and Israel – have banned flights from the six southern African nations.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that other EU nations should also “activate the emergency brake” to stop travel from these countries.
The @EU_Commission will propose, in close coordination with Member States, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529.
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) November 26, 2021
Oil prices also fell on fears the new Covid strain could lead to restrictions and dampen demand. Brent crude dropped by 4.9% to $78.15 a barrel.
“The drop in the oil price is the market’s way of saying it is worried about a reduction in economic activity,” said Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.
But he said: “The flipside of falling commodity prices is that a weaker oil price should provide some relief in terms of inflationary pressures.
“That may cause central banks to be more cautious towards raising rates in the near-term, however it does depend on whether the new Covid strain causes significant disruption or can be contained as best as possible in a rapid manner.”
UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said scientists were “deeply concerned” about the new Covid variant but more needed to be learned about it.
However, he said the variant had a significant number of mutations, “perhaps double the number of mutations that we have seen in the Delta variant”.
Mr Javid said that adding the six countries to the red list was about “being cautious and taking action and trying to protect, as best we can, our borders”.
Virgin Atlantic said its flights from Johannesburg to London Heathrow would be cancelled between midday on Friday to early on Sunday morning.
“We’re currently reviewing our schedule of South Africa operations for the coming week,” it added.
The carrier said any customers booked to travel to or from South Africa with Virgin Atlantic should check on the company’s website. If they have booked through third parties or agents, they should get in touch with them.