PRECIOUS-Gold steadies as virus jitters counter stronger dollar

* Dollar hits over nine-month high

* European shares drop almost 2%

* Platinum slips to more than 1-week low

* Palladium hits more than 5-month low (Recasts, adds comments, updates prices)

Aug 19 (Reuters) - Gold prices steadied on Thursday as concerns over a surge in COVID-19 Delta variant cases and its impact on the economy helped counter pressure from a stronger dollar and fears over early tapering by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Spot gold was steady at $1,788.75 per ounce by 1052 GMT, after falling as much as 0.8% earlier in the session.

U.S. gold futures rose 0.4% to $1,791.90.

“Gold is certainly benefiting from its safe haven status this morning. While equity markets are falling heavily, gold is back in demand. Clearly COVID nerves are coming through,” OANDA analyst Craig Erlam said.

“A move above $1,800 looks more achievable. In the medium-term, downside pressure will remain on gold but that won’t stop it reaping the benefits of the jitters.”

European shares fell almost 2% as fears built that tapering in global monetary policy would happen sooner than previously expected, with COVID worries also adding to the losses.

The minutes from the Fed’s July meeting showed officials expected they could ease stimulus this year, even though there was division over the labour market recovery and the level of risk posed by rising coronavirus cases.

The U.S. dollar, meanwhile, rose to a nine-month high boosted by worries around the coronavirus and early tapering hints from the U.S. central bank.

Gold often competes with the dollar as a safe store of value during political and financial uncertainties, with a higher dollar also making gold more expensive for those holding other currencies.

“From a technical point of view, we can find a first support zone placed at $1,760, while $1,790 remains a key resistance zone,” Carlo Alberto De Casa, market analyst at Kinesis, said in a note.

Silver dropped 0.6% to $23.33 per ounce. Platinum slipped 2.4% to $970.47 to a more than one-week low.

Palladium fell 2.4% to $2,367.89 per ounce, its lowest level since mid-March. (Reporting by Brijesh Patel and Eileen Soreng in Bengaluru; editing by Barbara Lewis and Anil D’Silva)