SYDNEY, AAP – The Australian share market has held on to steady gains despite a surge in local coronavirus cases, with investors focusing on reports about the raging Omicron variant being less severe than previous variants.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed higher by 22.8 points, or 0.31 per cent, at 7387.6 points on Thursday.

The All Ordinaries index rose 24.9 points, or 0.32 per cent, to 7707.5 points.

Burman Invest chief investment officer Julia Lee said a positive lead overnight from Wall Street and a bounce back in oil prices helped the share market have a good session, despite thin volumes and the worrying news about infections.

“The market is focused on the relatively positive news coming through on the Omicron front which is you know, this this has been rolled out. Vaccination is being expanded and we haven’t seen massive overload in ICUs, so there may be light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

A South African study earlier indicated lower risks of hospitalisation and severe disease in people infected by the Omicron variant compared to Delta.

That provided little relief for local authorities as cases surged, with NSW revealing a record 5715 infections while Victoria added 2005 infections, its highest in two months. The numbers prompted governments in the country’s two most populous states to reinstate indoor mask mandates.

On the local market, not surprisingly, healthcare was the best performing sector with protective clothing maker Ansell leading the charge, rising 4.0 per cent to $31.92. Market favourites ResMed, Cochlear and CSL all ended higher.

Financial stocks helped hold the line, with each of the Big Four banks closing about 0.5 per cent higher, while fund manager Magellan Financial Group rebounded another 5.2 per cent to $20.96, recovering from a slide last week after the loss of a major contract.

Energy shares gave up some of their early gains, but Santos and Woodside still ended 0.2 per cent and 0.5 per cent higher respectively.

The big iron ore miners were firmly in the red over concerns about steel production in key market China. BHP lost 0.3 per cent while Fortescue Metals dropped 1.4 per cent.

However, this was more than made up by gains in gold explorers after the precious metal climbed further. Newcrest was up more than 1 per cent, and smaller rivals Regis Resources and Evolution Mining gained 4.3 per cent and 2.3 per cent respectively.

Technology shares were under pressure. Wisetech dropped 2.6 per cent to $58.67 on news about its CEO selling down some of his shares, while buy now pay later leader Afterpay also dropped 2.5 per cent.

Bega Cheese tumbled more than 10 per cent to $5.04 after the company warned of a hit to its 2022 fiscal earnings. It attributed the profit warning to rising competition, high global prices and the impact of coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the Australian dollar rose on improved risk sentiment and was buying 72.17 US cents at 1700 AEDT, up from 71.32 US cents at Wednesday’s close.

ON THE ASX

* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed higher by 22.8 points, or 0.31 per cent, at 7387.6 points on Thursday.

* The All Ordinaries index rose 24.9 points, or 0.32 per cent, to 7707.5 points.

* At 1700 AEDT, the SPI200 futures index was unchanged to 7292 points.

CURRENCY SNAPSHOT

One Australian dollar buys:

* 72.17 US cents, from 71.32 cents on Tuesday

* 82.43 Japanese yen, from 81.40 yen

* 63.64 Euro cents, from 63.26 cents

* 54.06 British pence, from 53.81 pence

* 105.90 NZ cents, from 105.73 cents.