Ireland’s lockdowns drive spike in unemployment and savings – dpa international

A car park in a shopping area in the town of Castlebar in the west of Ireland, shortly after the early December end of the country's second lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Unemployment in Ireland stayed above 20 per cent in December, official statistics released on Wednesday show, as the country continues to reel from the economic impact of coronavirus-related restrictions. According to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the December rate, adjusted to include those receiving pandemic-related unemployment payments, was 20.4 per cent, a slight improvement on November’s 21 per cent. The CSO’s Catalina Gonzalez said “the Covid-19 crisis” is having “a significant impact on the labour market.” Around 7 per cent of “all persons” would be classed as jobless if pandemic-related layoffs, some of which could prove temporary, were omitted, according to the CSO. Irish revenue officials said on Wednesday that some of the hundreds of thousands of pandemic-related recipients will face tax bills for the payments, one day after the Department of Finance projected a 19-billion-euros budget deficit for 2020. In April, during Ireland’s first lockdown, the pandemic-adjusted unemployment rate shot up to a record 28.2 per cent. January unemployment numbers will likely increase after Ireland announced another national lockdown shortly before Christmas, with people told to remain within 5 kilometers of their homes and many businesses forced to close for a third time since the pandemic started. Ireland’s second lockdown ran for six weeks until early December.

Catholic leaders worry about post-pandemic congregations – dpa international

KNOCK — On December 2, almost two months to the day since his parishioners were last permitted to attend Mass, Father Richard Gibbons’ greeting to eager, returning worshippers mixed relief and barely disguised elation. “Good afternoon to you all and welcome back to Mass,” said Gibbons, parish priest in Knock, a village in the west of Ireland and Marian pilgrimage site visited by Pope Francis in 2018. Ireland’s second coronavirus-related lockdown had just ended. Among the restrictions, which included pubs, restaurants and “non-essential” retail being forced to close, was a ban on attendance at religious ceremonies other than weddings and funerals. So, after two months of saying Mass to unseen believers watching online from their homes, Gibbons was glad to face even the sparse gathering permitted inside the vast Knock basilica, which can seat almost 4,000 people. “It’s great – for me – to have somebody at Mass,” he said, emphasizing the “somebody.” But the reprieve did not last: on December 22, the Irish government announced a return to lockdown, citing concerns over a new coronavirus strain in nearby Britain.

Can a pandemic kill a curse? Old rivals meet again in Ireland’s national final – dpa international

Roadside building in Manulla, Co. Mayo, painted in the colours worn by the county's Gaelic football team. Taken in evening fog on December 7 2020, the day after the team qualified for a 5th All-Ireland football final in 9 years (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — “Any tickets?” “Anyone buying or selling?” Any other year, such would be the refrain in the streets near Dublin’s 82,000-capacity Croke Park throughout the morning of Gaelic Football’s All-Ireland final. But instead of the usual August or September, this year’s delayed and truncated competition will finish the week before Christmas, with those tens of thousands of supporters told watch from home. Restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic mean that come 5pm on Saturday, the vast arena will echo only to the collisions of the 30 players and the yelling of substitutes and coaches. “It’s a pity there won’t be a crowd to see [the final],” said Maurice Quinlivan, part of the Tipperary team thrashed by Mayo in the last four, while previewing the match on Irish radio. Even watching in a bar will be difficult, as only premises that serve food can operate under pandemic-related rules. Around 3,500 of Ireland’s pubs have been forced to close since March for all but two weeks. “We miss the fun, the craic,” said John Maughan, a former Mayo player and manager. “It’s not the same.”

Pandemic curbs set tourism back three decades, according to UN body – dpa international

Some retailers open, some not, along central Dublin street in June (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN  — International arrivals have likely dropped by over 70 per cent in 2020 due to pandemic-related restrictions, taking overall tourism and travel numbers back to 1990 levels. The United Nations’ World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said on Thursday that it “expects international arrivals to decline by 70% to 75% for the whole of 2020,” after the January-October period showed “900 million fewer international tourists when compared with the same period of 2019.” Such an outcome would mean that “global tourism will have returned to levels of 30 years ago,” according to the UNWTO, when the world’s population was over 2 billion less than it is now. The travel collapse could mean “a loss of some 1.1 trillion dollars in international tourism receipts,” according to the UNWTO.

Ireland’s ‘first Covid-free pub’ gets back to pouring pints – dpa international

Pints of Guinness served on June 29 2020 as Ireland allows some pubs to reopen after almost 4 months closure due to coronavirus (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A bar in the west of Ireland is reopening on Thursday evening as the country’s “first Covid free pub,” with drinkers being tested for the novel coronavirus before entry.cAccording to Eileen’s Bar, a pub in the village of Aughamore, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from capital Dublin, customers must first wait at “a designated area” where they are “tested for Covid by a trained tester.” Announcing the reopening in a Tuesday Facebook post, pub owner Donal Byrne said only regular patrons will be permitted entry and then only after testing negative – but with the promise that they can “enjoy a drink in the testing area” while waiting for the result.

Estimate suggests health workers 7 times more likely to get severe Covid-19 than ‘non-essential’ workers – dpa international

DUBLIN — Health-care workers in Britain face seven times the risk of contracting severe Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, compared to those in most other jobs. That is according to research published on Tuesday in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine and based on data from lockdowns imposed across Britain during the pandemic’s first European wave from roughly March to May. According to the journal, “occupational exposure” to the virus “is of great concern among essential worker groups, particularly health-care workers,” with defects in or and shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) adding to their vulnerability.

Irish economy recovers between lockdowns but further losses loom – dpa international

DUBLIN — Ireland’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew 11.1 per cent during the third quarter, according to official estimates published Friday, suggesting the country’s economy saw some temporary respite between two separate lockdown periods. Jennifer Banim of the Central Statistics Office (CSO) said the “easing of Covid-19 related restrictions led to growth across almost all sectors of the economy in quarter 3.” The CSO data show Ireland’s economy rebounding after GDP contracted by around 6 per cent during the second quarter, which coincided with the country’s first coronavirus lockdown. Restaurants and pubs that serve meals reopened on Friday, after the end of a six-week second lockdown. Non-essential retail reopened earlier this week.  Ireland’s daily coronavirus case numbers, which topped the 1,200-mark in October, had dropped to below 200 by Thursday. The second pandemic wave was far less deadly than the first, according to official data released Friday. The average mortality rate in November was eight people per 1,000 confirmed cases, down from a peak of 74 per 1,000 in April, the CSO reported. Hospitalisations were 58 per 1000 cases in November, down from 192 in March.  

US health firm to hire 170 people in Ireland to research Covid vaccine safety – dpa international

On December 2 2020, Catholics attend the first Mass held in Knock Basilica in the west of Ireland after the end of Ireland's second pandemic lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — US health information and clinical research company IQVIA plans to appoint 170 people in Ireland to work on “ensuring vaccines administrated post authorization are safe for the public,” according to state investment agency IDA Ireland. Barry Mulchrone, IQVIA Ireland’s head of pharmacovigilance oversight and analytics, said the company is “proud to play a role in the humanitarian effort to ensure the safety profile of vaccines used for Covid-19 are monitored to the highest international standards.” Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister (Tánaiste) Leo Varadkar welcomed the IQVIA recruitment announcement, citing “positive indications recently regarding the potential for a Covid-19 vaccine.”

As second Irish lockdown ends, central bank announces record savings

Pandemic distancing sign at football pitch in Charlestown in the west of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s banks have been flooded with record savings in 2020 after government restrictions forced many pubs, retailers and restaurants to close for months due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Central Bank of Ireland announced on Monday that household bank deposits in October hit “the highest on record,” reaching 123 billion euros (147 billion dollars). Some of those savings are unlikely to last, with Retail Ireland, an industry body, on Monday predicting an extra 1.2 billion euros would be spent over Christmas. Many retailers will reopen on Tuesday as Ireland’s second coronavirus lockdown ends after six weeks. Retail Ireland said earlier this month that “footfall in Irish retail has fallen more than anywhere else in Europe.”

Irish broadcaster questioned by police over virus rule breaches -dpa international

Government reminders about coronavirus-related restrictions are ubiquitous across Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s public broadcaster RTÉ is facing a police probe after several TV and radio stars were photographed while not observing coronavirus-related distancing during an office party. Director of Human Resources Eimear Cusack said on Monday that RTÉ representatives “met with An Garda Síochána [the official Irish name for the police] today in respect of their inquiry.” The news presenters and talk show hosts involved have apologized, with Miriam O’Callaghan saying on RTÉ radio on Sunday that “I let everyone down, and for that I will be forever sorry.” Moya Doherty, chair of the station’s board, said in a statement there is “an onus” on RTÉ to be “both above reproach and to lead by example.”  The Irish Independent, one of the country’s biggest newspapers, said on Monday that the apologies were “half-hearted lame excuses.”