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Australasia, News

Australia shares end lower as vaccine rollout hits snag

* Healthcare, energy stocks weigh on Aussie benchmark

* Gains in gold, tech shares offset some losses

* NZX50 index ends 0.5% weaker

By Riya Sharma

April 9 (Reuters) – Australian shares ended lower on Friday, as the country joined a host of others in restricting the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and began overhauling its inoculation plans, though the index still delivered its best week in nine.​

The S&P/ASX 200 index settled 0.1% lower at 6,995.2 points at close of trade, applying brakes on its longest winning run since early December.

Australia on Thursday made a policy shift to recommend the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for people over 50 amid concerns about links to risks of blood clots with AstraZeneca’s shot.

“It seems Pandora’s box has been opened with the AstraZeneca news,” Brad Smoling, managing director at Smoling Stockbroking said.

“With the government declaring that the vaccine will not be mandatory, the societal divide is now in full swing and the negative news is becoming louder.”

Healthcare stocks tumbled 0.8% with sector giant CSL , which has the contract to make 50 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine domestically, dropping as much as 1.4%.

Energy stocks fell 0.7​% after U.S. oil prices eased overnight. Woodside Petroleum and Santos fell as much as 1.4% and 1.5%, respectively.

However, not all commodities delivered lacklustre performances. Gold stocks firmed 1.7% in their fifth straight session in the black, as overnight bullion prices hit their highest since February.

Tech shares gained 0.7%, reflecting a strong run in Wall Street overnight.

Index heavyweight Afterpay hit its highest in more than one month after the buy-now-pay-later bellwether said its stake in the booming U.S. business had increased to 91%.

New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index closed 0.5% lower at 12,574.4. (Reporting by Riya Sharma in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)

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