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.

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.

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.  

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.”

Singapore ends two-month virus lockdown, though some curbs remain – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore on Tuesday began allowing activities that “do not pose high risk of transmission” to resume after two months of lockdown, despite reporting the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in East Asia. Some offices and factories resumed operations, children went back to school, while places of worship began to open their doors.  Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday that the relaxation will likely prove “a big relief to all” but one that is “certainly not without its risks.” The wealthy city-state, an investment and trade hub whose seaport and airport rank among the world’s busiest, has diagnosed 35,292 cases of the new coronavirus, more than any country in East or South-East Asia except for China. Most of the cases are among foreign migrants confined to dormitories, though the related death toll, at 24, is one of the world’s lowest.

A month after lockdown ends, Malaysia slowly getting back to normal – dpa international

Not many people around in this central Kuala Lumpur mall, more than three weeks after the end of Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Business and consumer activity in South-East Asia’s third-wealthiest economy is inching back towards pre-pandemic levels, going by data published almost a month after the end of a strictly-enforced lockdown. Monday’s IHS Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), a widely cited survey of businesses, showed manufacturing rising in May after a record low in April, when Malaysia was in lockdown. According to IHS Markit, the May rebound in business activity came “amid reports that some firms had restarted production following a partial lifting of lockdown rules.” However, the PMI survey showed the May bounce-back as “indicative of a further deterioration in manufacturing sector conditions” – as overall performance remained below the 50 mark, which Malaysia last hit in January. If the PMI reads below 50, it suggests businesses are cutting back.

Malaysia to loosen Covid-19 lockdown curbs, PM says in May Day speech – dpa international

Barista at work in Kuala Lumpur café during Malaysia's lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Starting May 4, Malaysia will wind back restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of the new coronavirus, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Friday. Acknowledging that curbs imposed since mid-March were hurting commerce, Muhyiddin said during a Labour Day speech that “we must find ways to balance between healing the nation’s economy and addressing Covid-19.” A total of 6,002 people in Malaysia have contracted Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, with 102 people dying in thr country and more than 230,000 people globally. Almost 70 per cent of people who tested positive in Malaysia have recovered, according to Ministry of Health data, with new case numbers dropping to an average of 57 a day over the past 10 days.

Malaysia to extend Covid-19 lockdown even as infection numbers decline – dpa international

Not much traffic on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, six weeks into a lockdown which is slowing the spread of the new coronavirus (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — During a televised speech on Thursday night to mark the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced that a lockdown aimed at stemming the coronavirus pandemic will be extended until May 12. Although Malaysia’s new cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, have dropped to well below 100 a day over the past week – and recoveries among the infected have risen to 63 per cent of the 5,603 confirmed total – Muhyiddin did not rule out extending the restrictions beyond mid-May. “You may not be able to celebrate Hari Raya (the holiday marking the end of Ramadan) in your kampung (village),” the prime minister warned. The lockdown, known officially as a Movement Control Order, was first imposed on March 18 and has now been extended into a fourth two-week phase.

Backlash prods Malaysia into banning beer brewing during Covid-19 lockdown – dpa international

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KUALA LUMPUR — Heineken and Carlsberg will have to close their Malaysia-based breweries to comply with an ongoing lockdown, the Muslim-majority country’s government announced on Monday afternoon. Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said during a press conference that the decision was taken after the government was criticized for allowing the factories to operate.  “Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp groups and many more were questioning why the Heineken and Carlsberg factories were still allowed to be open,” Ismail said. Both the youth wing of Bersatu, the party of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, and the Parti Islam se Malaysia (PAS), which is part of the governing coalition, had questioned whether the breweries should be listed among the “essential” businesses allowed operate during the lockdown, which is aimed at stemming a recent surge in cases in Malaysia to 3,662

Despite economic risk, Singapore lockdown looms after Covid-19 surge – dpa international

KUALA LUMPUR — Announcing an effective lockdown that will run for a month from April 7, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Singaporeans on Friday afternoon that the country needs to “make a decisive move now” to stop the coronavirus. “We will close most workplaces except for essential services,” Lee said, touting the move as a “circuit breaker” aimed at interrupting a startling jump in infections over the past week. Singapore has seen the number of cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, rise to 1,114. Five people have died, the latest fatality announced on Friday morning. Most of this week’s diagnoses have been described by the Health Ministry as “local,” after a period of weeks when most of the new cases originated in homebound Singaporeans and were labelled “imported.” “For half of these [new] cases we don’t know where or from whom they caught the virus,” Lee said