By Barbara Kollmeyer
Stocks in London clung to gains on Wednesday, while the pound came under pressure after a report that U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson may tighten restrictions on the country as it battles rising COVID cases.
Citing three senior government officials, the Financial Times reported that the government will introduce vaccine passports for large venues and recommendations for individuals to work from home. The announcement of new measures could come as soon as Wednesday and would represent a fourth set of restrictions for Britain during the pandemic.
However, one of those sources claimed Johnson was trying to distract from a scandal over a leaked mock Downing Street press conference that referred to a staff party last Christmas.
Johnson has apologized over the reports and ordered an inquiry into video that was recorded on Dec. 22, 2020 and shown late Tuesday by broadcaster ITV. He told members of parliament on Wednesday that the government needed to focus on the new omicron variant of COVID-19 that was spreading faster through the country than past ones.
The pound /zigman2/quotes/210561263/realtime/sampled GBPUSD +0.1102% fell as low as $1.3187 vs. the dollar, hovering at around that level in the afternoon. U.K.-listed travel stocks were mixed, with shares of InterContinental Hotels Group /zigman2/quotes/202865596/delayed UK:IHG +1.65% up 1.9% and cruise company Carnival /zigman2/quotes/210414141/delayed UK:CCL +0.97% climbing nearly 5%, but easyJet /zigman2/quotes/202825892/delayed UK:EZJ +3.29% stock down 1.5%.
Shares of travel group TUI /zigman2/quotes/207049334/delayed UK:TUI +6.72% rose 1.2%, after dropping earlier after the company reported bookings had slowed for its winter reservations.
“The outlook adds another piece to a precarious picture over the next few months for the travel and tourism sector, given uncertainty surrounding the new COVID strain,” said Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown, in a note to clients.
Drugmaker Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +0.78% may have lent a hand in stabilizing some losses after the company said preliminary studies showed that three doses of its COVID vaccine, including one booster, would neutralize the omicron variant . But Wall Street was trading modestly lower as investors digested two strong consecutive sessions.
The FTSE 100 index /zigman2/quotes/210598409/delayed UK:UKX -0.06% , climbed 1.5% on Tuesday, and has gained 3% over the last two trading sessions, the biggest such back-to-back gains since Feb. 15, 2021. The index was barely positive on Wednesday at 7,346.63.