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Irish healthcare workers hardest-hit by pandemic – dpa international

DUBLIN — Ireland’s front line medics have been hit harder than counterparts elsewhere by the novel coronavirus pandemic, the head of the country’s main nurses’ union said during a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday. Addressing the Dáil (parliament) Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said the country has the world’s highest rate of infection among health care workers.
Ireland’s Department of Health has confirmed 25,383 coronavirus cases since February 29, with 8,161 of those diagnosed among health care workers. Ní Sheaghdha described the numbers as an “absolute scandal” and warned that hospitals are facing staffing shortages.

Irish airline Aer Lingus to lay off 500 workers due to pandemic – dpa international

Social distancing guidelines in St. Stephen's Green, a park in central Dublin (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Citing a slump in air travel due to the coronavirus, Aer Lingus on Friday announced it will fire 500 workers and slammed Ireland’s interim government for failing “to take steps that other European [Union] member states have taken.” Citing a “catastrophic” collapse in air travel that has reduced it to 5 per cent of its pre-pandemic operations, the airline said that other European countries “have progressively restored transport services and connectivity in response to a European Commission invitation to do so.” The 30 flights undertaken by Aer Lingus in the past week amount to around 10 per cent of the level of activity the same week one year ago, the airline said.  Friday’s jobs cull followed a Monday announcement by Aer Lingus that pay and working hours will be cut to 30 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

Survey suggests resurgence of polarisation in Northern Ireland – dpa international

On the bridge between Belcoo in the north of Ireland, part of the U.K., and Blacklion in the Republic of Ireland. The signage denoting the U.K. is in miles per hour while the Republic of Ireland is in kilometers per hour (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — People in Northern Ireland are more likely to identify with either Britain or Ireland since the 2016 British vote to leave the European Union, going by the latest annual Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey. A majority of the region’s 1.8 million people view themselves as either “nationalist” or “unionist”  in the latest survey, which saw 1,200 people canvassed in late 2019 and early 2020 by researchers from Ulster University and Queens University Belfast (QUB). In 2018, half of those surveyed eschewed identifying as either nationalist or unionist. Paula Devine of QUB said “it is striking that 2019 also saw a strengthening of unionist and nationalist identities and growing pressure on the so-called middle ground.”

British team announces ‘major breakthrough’ in Covid-19 treatment – dpa international

At the entrance to a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. Face masks are widely-used in some countries as a preventive measure against the novel coronavirus - a disease for which there is no vaccine (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A steroid called dexamethasone should be given to patients affected by Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, British researchers reported on Tuesday. Tests on 2,104 patients showed that low doses of the drug cut deaths by a third among patients on ventilators and by a fifth among those receiving oxygen, findings described by the researchers as a “major breakthrough” that “will save lives.” “One death would be prevented by treatment of around eight ventilated patients or around 25 patients requiring oxygen alone,” said the research team, which is testing a range of drugs on 11,500 Covid-19 patients at 175 British hospitals/ Martin Landray of the University of Oxford, one of the trial’s leaders, said that dexamethasone, a drug in use since the 1960s to treat inflammations and conditions such as asthma, could prove a “remarkably low cost” means of combatting the coronavirus pandemic.

Estimate puts 1.7 billion people worldwide at risk of severe Covid-19 – dpa international

Social distancing markers on floor of Dublin supermarket (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Some 1.7 billion people have at least one underlying health condition that “could increase their risk of severe Covid-19 if infected,” according to a British medical journal. Estimates published in The Lancet Global Health point to heightened risks from the coronavirus pandemic in regions with relatively high numbers of older people, such as Europe, and in regions with a higher prevalence of HIV/AIDS, such as Africa. Using data from 188 countries, the authors of the report estimate that 66 per cent of the world’s over-70s have an underlying condition – such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease – that could leave them vulnerable should they contract the new coronavirus. That percentage drops to 23 among working-age people, with only 5 per cent of under-20s estimated to have developed such a condition.

US pilot confirmed dead after fighter jet crashes off British coast – dpa international

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DUBLIN — A US Air Force pilot has died after a F-15C Eagle fighter jet crashed into the North Sea off the British coast on Monday morning. After a day-long search, RAF Lakenheath, the southern English base from where the aircraft took off, said on Monday evening that the pilot had been located and “confirmed deceased.” RAF Lakenheath described the death as a “tragic loss for the 48th Fighter Wing community” and issued “deepest condolences” to the pilot’s family and the 493rd Fighter Squadron.

Singapore PM warns of impact on Asia of US-China power rivalry – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong fears rising tensions between the US and China could undermine security and economic growth across Asia and called on both sides to pull back from confrontation. Lee flagged his concerns in an article titled “The Endangered Asian Century” published  in the US journal Foreign Affairs, which has a history of running watershed essays by policymakers involved international relations.Fearing that smaller Asian countries could be forced to take sides if intransigence grows between the world’s two biggest economies, Lee called for cooperation between the US and China, even as tensions rise over the coronavirus pandemic, trade, the disputed South China Sea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. “The two powers must work out a modus vivendi that will be competitive in some areas without allowing rivalry to poison cooperation in others,” Lee implored.

Pandemic and lockdown sink Malaysia’s exports to lowest in a decade – dpa international

Social distancing rules applied on public transport in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s exports dropped 23.8 per cent year-on-year in April, the biggest fall for South-East Asia’s third richest economy since the height of the global financial crisis more than 10 years ago. The government’s chief statistician Mohd Uzir Mahidin said on Thursday that April exports tallied “the largest decline since September 2009,” a slump he put down to Malaysia’s economy largely closing from March 18 to May 4 during a strictly-enforced lockdown aimed at stemming a rise in new coronavirus cases. Malaysia’s total trade for April fell 16.4 per cent, which the Ministry for Trade and Industry said was due to “major disruptions to global supply chain” caused by the pandemic. Key sectors such as oil and liquefied natural gas shrank by over 20 per cent each as global demand receded and prices fell. Also down by a fifth were electrical and electronics exports, hit hard by disruptions to global supply chains.

Singapore sees record business slump in May due to pandemic – dpa international

Singapore skyline over Marina Bay (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Commerce in Singapore hit a new low in May due to the coronavirus pandemic and worldwide lockdowns, going by a widely-cited business yardstick published on Wednesday. The IHS Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) – based on a survey of 400 businesses about new orders, output, employment, suppliers’ delivery times and stocks of purchases – dropped to 27.1 during May. Any reading below 50 suggests economic contraction.  IHS Markit said that the decline was because “demand for goods and services plummeted at an unprecedented rate” due to the pandemic. The impact of a lockdown that ran from April 7 until Tuesday saw new orders collapse in May – when “firms remained firmly in retrenchment mode, reducing staff numbers and input purchasing.”

Claims of Saudi donations resurface in ex-Malaysian PM’s graft trial – dpa international

Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak arriving at Kuala Lumpur High Court on February 10 2020 for one of his ongoing corruption trials (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Allegations of lavish contributions from Saudi Arabia re-emerged on Wednesday during one of former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak’s ongoing trials over alleged theft of public money and related abuses of office. When lurid corruption claims were first levelled against Najib Razak in 2015, the then-prime minister said the largesse involved, said to be around 700 million dollars, was donated from the world’s biggest oil producer. In court in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, Najib’s defence team said that letters purportedly from Saudi royals meant Najib had no reasonable cause to question the source of money flowing into his bank account. The missives, the defence said, were shown to Malaysia’s central bank and anti-corruption commission before representatives of the latter travelled to Saudi Arabia to discuss the matter with several princes.”If the letters were not genuine, there would have been denial on the spot,” said defence lawyer Harvinderjit Singh, who added that he was not claiming the donations took place.