US crude sank 5% to around $74 a barrel. Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, fell 4.3%.
Investors were “spooked” by the discovery of the new Covid-19 variant in South Africa, Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst for Asia Pacific at Oanda, said in a research note on Friday.
South Africa’s health minister said Thursday that a new coronavirus variant appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of the country.
It has also been detected in Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel.
Travel and airline stocks are among the biggest fallers Friday.
“With the delta wave in mind from earlier this year, investors are likely to shoot first and ask questions later until more is known about it,” Halley said.
— Rob North contributed to this article.
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