Air pollution contributes to a “significant fraction” of coronavirus-related deaths

DUBLIN — Fifteen per cent of all novel coroavirus-related deaths worldwide “could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution,” according to a German-led team of researchers. Published in the journal Cardiovascular Research, the estimate is based on analysis of pollution and pandemic data by organisations including the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Harvard University’s public health school and The Cyprus Institute’s Climate and Atmosphere Research Center. Exposure to air pollution likely aggravates “co-morbidities that could lead to fatal health outcomes of the [novel coronavirus] infection,” the research team said. Deaths linked to a combination of air pollution and Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, represent “potentially avoidable, excess mortality,” they added.

Northern Ireland shuns following Ireland back into lockdown – dpa international

A Catholic church in Co.Mayo in the west of Ireland. Public religious services are prohibited in Ireland but not in Northern Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — After the Republic of Ireland became the first country in Europe to reimpose a coronavirus-related lockdown, officials in Northern Ireland are saying instead that a more focused approach will be maintained for the British-controlled region. “If we are not going for a full lockdown then restrictions have to be targetted,” said Robin Swann, health minister in the northern administration. Northern Ireland last week added new local measures aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, including closing pubs and restaurants for one month. After tightening curbs several times in recent weeks, the Irish government on Monday ordered the imposition of a six-week stay-at-home lockdown.

Singapore team develops one-minute coronavirus test – dpa international

DUBLIN — Mention of a breathalyzer typically evokes images of a bedraggled five o’clock shadow peering bloodshot-eyed through a driver’s window after being pulled over by police. That could change if a new test for the novel coronavirus gets a second wind after successful first-round trials.. According to a Tuesday statement by the National University of Singapore (NUS), the device, which resembles a drink-driving breathalyzer, generates a result in around 60 seconds. The outcomes, which NUS reports as having proven 90 per cent accurate among the 180 people tested, “are generated in real-time” by analysis of “Volatile Organic Compounds” in a person’s breath. Jia Zhunan, doctor and chief executive officer of NUS spin-off company Breathonix, said the test is “is easy to administer,” needing neither trained staff nor laboratory processing.

Northern Ireland to close schools, pubs, restaurants due to coronavirus concerns – dpa international

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

DUBLIN — Faced with rising novel coronavirus infection numbers, Northern Ireland will require restaurants and pubs to close for four weeks, the region’s First Minister Arlene Foster said on Wednesday.”There are increasing numbers of people requiring acute care in our hospitals and sadly we learned yesterday of the death of seven people from Covid-19,” Foster said, referring to the disease sometimes caused by the virus. Hairdressers and salons must also close for one month, though restaurants and pubs can offer takeaway or delivery services. The restrictions come into force from Friday. Schools will close for two weeks and people have been asked to avoid “unnecessary travel” and “work from home unless unable to do so.” Responding to the announcement, industry body Hospitality Ulster warned Foster’s administration of “redundancies across the sector” unless an “emergency financial package” is put together for affected businessses.

Northern Ireland reports over one thousand virus cases in new daily record – dpa international

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

DUBLIN — Northern Ireland confirmed an unprecedented 1,080 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Friday, breaking not only the region’s previous highest daily tally, but also that of the bigger Irish Republic recorded at the height of the pandemic in April. “The situation is grave and getting more so,” said Robin Swann, the region’s health minister. Northern Ireland’s record was based on 6,447 tests, suggesting the virus is widespread. Almost one-third of the region’s roughly 18,000 cases have been diagnosed over the past week. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and has a population of 1.8 million, while the population of the Republic, usually referred to as Ireland, is a shade under 5 million. Ireland’s caseload topped 40,000 on Thursday after 506 new infections were reported, out of over 19,500 tests. Ireland’s daily record of 936 infections, recorded on April 23, was based on fewer than 5,000 tests.

Pandemic boosts Ireland’s exports but restrictions hammer local commerce – dpa international

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

DUBLIN — Ireland’s small businesses were hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic while sectors dominated by foreign investors grew, according to official estimates. The Central Statistics Office reported on Thursday that gross value added in “non-MNE [multinational enterprise] dominated sectors” decreased by 19.8 per cent in the second quarter. The CSO estimated that the “foreign-owned MNE dominated sector increased by 1.1 per cent over the same period.” The state-funded Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) described Ireland’s experience in lockdown as “a tale of two economies.” This “duality in performance” is down to “a concentration of Irish exports in lockdown-resistant sectors” such as computer services and pharmaceuticals.

Ryanair loses court challenge to Ireland’s pandemic travel rules – dpa international

Irish tourism destination such as this beach on Achill, an Atlantic coast island, are mostly empty (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN —  Ryanair has endorsed a Friday ruling by Ireland’s High Court that the government’s pandemic-related travel measures are advisory rather than mandatory. Despite losing the case, the said airline it “welcomes” the decision as it “confirms there is no legal requirement for the current travel restrictions.” Backed by Aer Lingus, formerly Ireland’s state carrier, Ryanair sued the government in July over the guidelines, which it claimed were presented as “mandatory” and were imposed without parliamentary oversight. Opining that the measures are neither compulsory nor an abuse of power, Justice Garrett Simons said on Friday that “advice to avoid non-essential travel and to restrict movement on entry to the state is just that: advice.”

New research could help doctors sniff out coronavirus infections – dpa international

Socially-distant queue to enter a shop in Sligo in the northwest of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Failing to pick up the waft of garlic, coffee or perfume could be a clearer coronavirus warning than previously thought, according to research by University College London (UCL). The findings, published Thursday in the journal PLOS Medicine, were based on novel coronavirus antibody tests taken by 567 people whose senses of taste or smell deteriorated over the previous month. Some 78 per cent of those tested were carrying antibodies, meaning they had likely been infected. Anosmia, or loss of sense of smell, was three times more prevalent among the group than loss of taste. Most of those with antibodies otherwise felt only mild symptoms of Covid-19, with 40 per cent suffering neither cough nor fever – listed by the World Health Organization as among the “most common symptoms.” The WHO ranks loss of senses of smell or taste as “less common symptoms.”

Medics find ‘direct evidence’ of vitamin D cutting Covid death risk – dpa international

Vitamin D has been touted as beneficial in curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — People showing symptoms of Covid-19 are less likely to die or develop severe illness if they have enough vitamin D in their systems, according to Boston University’s School of Medicine. Analysing blood samples from 235 patients hospitalized with Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the researchers found “a significant decreased risk for adverse clinical outcomes” among those who were “vitamin D sufficient.” The findings, published on Friday in the science journal PLOS, were described by co-author Michael F Holick as “direct evidence” that enough of the vitamin “can reduce the complications” caused by a novel coronavirus infection. The analysis suggests patients who are vitamin D sufficient are “51.5 percent less likely to die” compared to those listed as “deficient.” 

UN agency data suggest Asia worst-hit by pandemic curbs – dpa international

A near-deserted street in Kuala Lumpur during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — International travel has plummeted during the novel coronavirus pandemic, with nowhere worse affected than the Asia-Pacific region, according to United Nations tourism body data.International arrivals across the region have dropped 72 per cent so far in 2020, according to the data, which was compiled for the Madrid-based World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) new Tourism Recovery Tracker.International arrivals in the Asia-Pacific were down 99 per cent year-on-year, a standstill that came after countries imposed strict lockdowns and holiday bans aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. China, Japan and South Korea were among the worst affected, with the UNWTO tracker showing an 83-per-cent drop in tourist arrivals across northeast Asia as most countries prohibited all but essential travel.