European stock markets tumbled into the red on Thursday following an announcement that England is set to impose its COVID Plan B amid fears of a rise in Omicron cases.
In an update last night, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said that people must work from home where possible from Monday, and that face masks would be a legal requirement in most public indoor areas such as theatres and cinemas from Friday.
However, there will be exemptions for eating and drinking in hospitality venues.
Vaccine passports will also be needed to attend large, potentially crowded venues such as nightclubs from next week.
Leisure stocks, including bars, restaurants, and hotels were knocked by the news after being badly hit by previous lockdowns and staff shortages.
Watch: Johnson imposes COVID-19 ‘Plan B’ in England
“We have been calling on the UK government for several months to set out what contingency plans for business would look like if further restrictions were needed this winter,” Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the British Chambers of Commerce, said.
“Yet again, firms are now being asked to make changes at the very last minute. Restrictions will also impact on consumer behaviour with knock-on effects which could risk the fragile recovery, order books and revenues.”
Meanwhile, Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said: “Requiring people to work from home over the busy Christmas period will hit jobs – unless ministers bring back furlough.
“Cleaners, receptionists, conference and banqueting staff, and hospitality and retail workers will be short of work if people don’t come into offices.”
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Across the pond, the S&P 500 (^GSPC) dipped 0.3% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq (^IXIC) fell 0.6% at the time of the European close. The Dow Jones (^DJI) edged 0.1% lower, bringing to an end three straight days of gains.
It comes as the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment support hit the lowest level in more than 50 years.
Just 184,000 initial claims for jobless benefit were filed last week, on a seasonally adjusted basis, a drop of 43,000, according to the latest figures from the US Labour Department. This was a new pandemic low, and indeed the lowest since September 1969.
On an unadjusted basis, initial claims climbed by around 64,000.
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Meanwhile, Asian stocks closed mainly higher after another strong lead from Wall Street as Omicron coronavirus variant fears lessened.
After a rollercoaster ride since Omicron first emerged last month, investors now seem more optimistic about the outlook in the run-up to Christmas.
In Japan, the Nikkei (^N225) fell 0.5% while the Hang Seng (^HSI) rose 1.1% and the Shanghai Composite (000001.SS) was 1% higher.