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Australia shares shed early gains as COVID-19 hotspot reports more cases

* Benchmark set to snap fourth straight weekly loss

* NZ bourse on track for third weekly decline

* NZ’s Fonterra hits 9-month high on upbeat annual profit

Sept 18 (Reuters) - Australian shares gave up initial gains to trade flat on Friday, with financials offsetting strength in miners, as a rise in daily new infections in the hotspot state of Victoria dashed hopes for a swifter recovery.

The S&P/ASX 200 index fell marginally to 5,882.5 by 0052 GMT, giving up early gains of 0.65%. However, the index was on track to snap a fourth consecutive weekly decline.

Victoria state - Australia’s COVID-19 epicentre - reported its biggest daily rise in new infections in more than a week on Friday, a day after it recorded its lowest rise in nearly three months stoking hopes of further easing of lockdown restrictions.

Among gainers, heavyweight mining stocks climbed 1.8%, bouncing back from heavy losses reported in the previous session. The sub-index was set for its best weekly gain in six.

Global iron ore mining giants BHP Group and Rio Tinto led the gains, rising 2.1% and 2.3%, respectively.

Technology firms were among the top percentage gainers, with buy-now-pay-later firm Afterpay rising as much as 3.8%.

Financials were among the top drags, losing 0.4% as all Big Four lenders declined between 0.6% and 0.8%.

Sydney Airport Holdings gave up nearly a percent after it reported a 96.5% slump in its total passenger traffic in August.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index fell as much as 0.4% to 11,730.470, extending losses after data released on Thursday showed the country entered its deepest recession in the June quarter.

The index was on track for its third straight weekly decline.

Meanwhile, shares of Fonterra rose as much as 0.7% to their highest since Dec. 18 after the world’s largest dairy exporter resumed dividend payouts and returned to profit in fiscal 2020 from a record loss last year.

Reporting by Sameer Manekar in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips

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