Irish central bank says coronavirus curbs caused ‘deep downturn’ – dpa international

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

DUBLIN — The novel coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions could shrink the Irish economy by nearly 14 per cent in 2020, according to the country’s central bank. In a report published on Friday, the Central Bank of Ireland said that a “widespread shutdown of businesses caused by the pandemic” led to “sudden and large-scale job losses” and a “severe negative shock to both consumer spending and investment.” The worst-case scenario of a 13.8-per-cent recession is based on the virus lingering through the year and prompting some restrictions to be reimposed. The bank’s best-case outcome would see Ireland’s gross domestic product (GDP) down by 9 per cent, slightly better than the 10.5 per cent projected earlier by the Finance Ministry.

A bit different: Ireland’s pubs reopen but under new pandemic rules – 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)

CLAREMORRIS — Some of Ireland’s pubs were pouring pints on Monday for the first time in nearly four months as the country lifts most coronavirus-related restrictions. Speaking over the evening chatter of customers in The Western, a pub and hotel in Claremorris – a town of around 4,000 people in the west of Ireland – manager Patrick Mitchell said “we had no idea what to expect today, we have been quite busy, but it is a bit different.” Patrons are allowed one hour and 45 minutes drinking-time in bars that serve food – as long as they splash out on a “substantial meal” priced at 9 euros (10 dollars) or more and adhere to social distancing requirements. Inside The Dalton Inn, about 100 metres down the street from The Western, owner Andrew Cooper said “we’re sticking strictly to those rules.” The regime means that only bigger pubs equipped with kitchens will reopen for now – with the food tab so far a deterrent to would-be punters.

As pandemic fades in Ireland, uncertainty around reopening of churches – dpa international

DUBLIN — Ireland plans to allow public religious ceremonies again from Monday, despite confusion over how many people can attend and over how new rules will apply to places of worship. Starting next week, a maximum of 50 people can meet indoors as part of the latest roll-back of curbs imposed in March to stem to spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic in Ireland. After Diarmuid Martin, the Catholic archbishop of Dublin, described the proposed blanket 50-person ceiling as “strange” and “disappointing,” outgoing Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Thursday that “a specific protocol” based on the seating capacity of places of worship “is going to be worked out” with religious authorities.

Survey suggests tilt back towards 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.”

Cruise ship barred by Malaysia and Thailand over coronavirus to dock in Singapore – dpa international

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JAKARTA – The Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) of Singapore said that the Costa Fortuna cruise vessel will dock at the city-state on March 10. The ship, which is carrying over 2,000 passengers, including 64 Italians, was refused entry to Phuket in Thailand and Penang in Malaysia over concerns about coronavirus, as the number of cases in Italy surged. The MPA and the Singapore Tourism Board said that the ship’s passengers, who departed Singapore on March 3, could disembark as they had “completed pre-embarkation checks based on prevailing policies for travel history and temperature screening as required by the cruise line and the terminal operator prior to boarding.” 

Malaysians tagged as Asia’s worst plastic polluters – dpa international

Plastic packaging in a Kuala Lumpur mall (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — A report published on Monday listed Malaysians as the biggest per capita users of plastic packaging in a region responsible for more than half the plastic litter in the world’s oceans. The report by the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) covers China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, which together account for “around 60 per cent of plastic debris entering the ocean.” The average Malaysian uses 16.78 kilograms of plastic packaging each year, according to WWF estimates, with Thailand next at 15.52 kg per person per annum. “Rapid economic growth has led to an immense increase in the use of plastic, especially for packaging consumer goods,” the WWF stated, linking plastic use with rising affluence across the region.

Stitched together – Southeast Asia Globe

PHNOM PENH — With no end in sight to the so-called trade war between the US and China, the European Union (EU) sees a chance to act as the guardian of free trade and hold its own against the two giants. But as the bloc gets increasingly bogged down in spats with individual Southeast Asian countries, prospects for a wider regional trade relationship look increasingly precarious. With Cambodia’s eligibility for preferential market access to the EU coming under question and with the likelihood growing that Myanmar could be put under similar scrutiny, the EU appears to be hedging against any consequent damage to its relations with Southeast Asia by seeking free trade agreements and closer defence ties with some of the region’s countries. While for now Cambodia can export duty-free to the 28-country, 513 million-population European Union market, this week saw the end of the “monitoring and engagement” phase of a review of that access, potentially putting $5 billion worth of Cambodian garment exports at risk. A European Commission spokesperson said in an August 12 email that “over the next six months, the Commission and the European External Action Service will analyse all the evidence collected”.

“Xiplomacy” wins in Europe despite US warnings – Asia Times

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DUBLIN — Business deals worth more than US$60 billion were arguably the least significant aspects of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Italy and France during the past five days. The key moment arrived in Paris on Tuesday when German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that the European Union wants “to play an active part” in Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). “We, as Europeans, want to play an active part [in the project] and that must lead to a certain reciprocity and we are still wrangling over that a bit,” she said at a media briefing after talks with Xi, French President Emmanuel Macro and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Her comments came despite pressure from the United States to block BRI deals and a recent statement by the EU branding China a “systemic rival.”

Asia-Europe leaders meeting comes after inconclusive Brexit talks – Nikkei Asian Review

JAKARTA — A spokesperson for the EU stated that the bloc “wants to continue to negotiate ambitious and balanced trade agreements with key partners in the region — this is what we have been doing with Japan, Korea, Singapore and Vietnam.” A “no deal” Brexit could work in one of two ways. While it would risk sidetracking the EU from tricky trade talks with Asia, Brexit could also make the bloc “more interested” in international agreements,” according to Joergen Oerstroem Moeller, a senior visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a think tank at the National University of Singapore. The EU “will not want to appear paralyzed or inward-looking after Brexit,” Moeller said.

Jack Ma slams Western economic models, says Europe over-regulated – Nikkei Asian Review

NUSA DUA — Chinese billionaire businessman Jack Ma slammed Western economies as over-regulated during a frank exchange with World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim at a conference in Bali. “In Europe they don’t like me, in America they don’t like me,” Ma said, drawing laughter from an audience at the International Monetary Fund/World Bank annual meeting that included government representatives from around the world. “In Europe a lot of people talk about regulations, they love to discuss about the worries, asking what ya gonna do. In America they have their system,” said Ma, who will step down as chairman of Alibaba Group Holding, the Chinese internet giant he founded, in September next year