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London copper prices fell as a newly identified Covid-19 variant in South Africa and expectations of faster-than-expected US rate hikes fuelled concerns of an economic slowdown.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange dipped 0.6% to $9 741 a tonne by 02:50 GMT. The most-traded January copper contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange fell 1.2% to 71 050 yuan ($11,115.63) a tonne.

South African scientists have detected a new Covid-19 variant in small numbers and are working to understand its potential implications. The new variant announcement prompted Britain to introduce travel restrictions on South Africa and five neighbouring countries.

Minutes of the US Federal Reserve’s last policy meeting showed a growing number of policymakers being open to speeding up the central bank’s tapering programme.

An early rate hike could trim liquidity in financial markets and slow recovery in the world’s biggest economy. Copper is often used as a gauge of global economic health.