LONDON - Bitcoin tumbled almost 8% on Friday after the discovery of a new, potentially vaccine-resistant coronavirus variant saw investors dump riskier assets for the perceived safety of bonds, the yen and the dollar.
Bitcoin, the largest digital currency, fell as much as 7.8% to $54,377, its lowest since Oct. 12. It was on track for its biggest one-day drop since Sept. 20.
Scientists said the variant, detected in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong, has an unusual combination of mutations and may be able to evade immune responses or make it more transmissible.
"The spread of (the variant), especially to other countries, could wither investor appetite further," said Yuya Hasegawa at Toyo-based exchange Bitbank. "BTC's upside will likely be limited and the market should brace for further loss."
Smaller coins, which tend to move in tandem with bitcoin, also fell. Ether, the second biggest by market capitalisation, slumped as much as 11.6% to its lowest in a week.
(Reporting by Tom Wilson; editing by Carolyn Cohn) ((T.Wilson@thomsonreuters.com; (44) 20 7513 5676; Reuters Messaging: firstname.lastname@example.org))