Shares on the Australian market were down in early trade, as a more infectious coronavirus variant looked set to further damage the world economy.

The S&P/ASX200 benchmark index was down 61.2 points, or 0.91 per cent, to 6608.7 at 1200 AEDT on Tuesday, after US markets closed lower.

The All Ordinaries had lost 63.7 points, or 0.92 per cent, to 6856.3.

Losses in materials and energy shares were notable drags on the ASX.

Materials lost 1.52 per cent after copper and other industrial metals prices sagged after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a variant of the coronavirus, up to 70 per cent more infectious, had been identified.

The energy sector was down 2.37 per cent. Oil prices tumbled almost three per cent after most European countries closed borders to the UK.

On US markets, the virus news seemed to overshadow an earlier pandemic relief agreement by politicians. The $US900 billion ($1.2 trillion) package includes unemployment aid, small business relief, and vaccine distribution.

In Australia, retail sales surged by seven per cent in November, helped by Victorians enjoying a full month at the shops after onerous coronavirus restrictions were lifted.

The sizeable improvement on October trade, according to seasonally-adjusted Bureau of Statistics data, showed Victoria’s retail sales grew by 21 per cent after many shops were allowed to re-open in late October.

Meanwhile, NSW authorities recorded eight more people infected by a coronavirus outbreak which began in Sydney.

The news brings the number of infections to 90. Travel restrictions for people from Sydney or NSW continue across the country.

In banking, ANZ has lost its chief financial officer of four years, Michelle Jablko, to Transurban.

Shares were down 0.85 per cent to $23.11.

Among major rivals, the Commonwealth slipped 0.1 per cent to $82.91, NAB declined 0.85 per cent to $23.10 and Westpac lost 1.13 per cent to $19.65.

Ramsay Health Care has signed a deal to continue providing services to England’s National Health Service for COVID-19 patients.

The deal runs for three months to the end of March.

Shares were up 0.68 per cent to $62.92.

Another health giant, CSL, was better by 0.09 per cent to $286.64.

In mining, BHP lost 1.06 per cent to $43.19. Fortescue declined 0.66 per cent to $23.88 and Rio Tinto fell 0.66 per cent to $116.34.

Earlier in the US, the S&P 500 fell 14.49 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 3,694.92. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 37.40 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 30,216.45. The Nasdaq composite slipped 13.12 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 12,742.52.

The Aussie dollar was buying 75.68 US cents at 1200 AEDT, up from 75.62 US cents at Monday’s close.