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Lockdowns cause Irish government spending and debt to soar – dpa international

Shoppers in the west of Ireland loading their cars outside a supermarket. one of the handful of retailers allowed to stay open during Ireland's lockdowns (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Coronavirus-related borrowing and spending caused an 18.4-billion-euro (22.01-billion-dollar) government deficit in Ireland last year, equivalent to around 5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), according to official data published on Wednesday. The Central Statistics Office (CSO) said Dublin borrowed almost 14 billion euros to meet ballooning health and social costs incurred by pandemic restrictions, which have left hundreds of thousands of people out of work and dependent on state support. In 2019, the government reported a surplus of 1.9 billion euros, before a swing into the red of of more than 20 billion last year, even as GDP grew by 3.4 per cent due to surging exports in multinationals-dominated sectors such as pharmaceuticals and information technology.

Ireland at odds with EU Commission and member states over Covid quarantine – dpa international

Ireland's lockdown rules have meant cafes only serving take-away drinks and food for most of the past year (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A rare row brewed on Friday between the usually pro-EU Irish Government and the European Commission, over Dublin forcing arrivals from five European Union member states to quarantine in hotels. Responding to criticism from the commission, Ireland’s Justice Minister Helen McEntee told broadcaster RTÉ the measures are “proportionate and reasonable.” Last month Ireland imposed mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals, including returning Irish, from countries regarded as hard-hit by the pandemic. Spokesman Christian Wigand said on Friday that the commission sent a letter to the Irish Government questioning the rules, which include EU members Austria, Belgium, France, Italy and Luxembourg among the 71 listed countries. “Less restrictive” measures could be used, Wigand said, including exempting “essential” travel within the bloc.

Irish airport traffic nosedives due to pandemic and related travel rules – dpa international

Ireland West Airport saw no passengers for 3 months of 2020 as travel slowed to a crawl after a pandemic was declared (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Footfall at Ireland’s airports plunged last year, according to official data released on Wednesday, with numbers down almost 80 per cent compared to 2019. The Central Statistics Office (CSO) said almost 8.3 million passengers passed through Irish airports in 2020, down from roughly 38 million the year before. Almost 5 million of the 2020 total passed through the airports in January and February, before numbers plummeted in the wake of the World Health Organization declaring a pandemic in March and governments imposing lockdowns and travel curbs. The fourth quarter of 2020 saw an even bigger fall, with passenger numbers down 90 per cent compared to late 2019. The CSO said the decreases “are associated with the restrictions imposed due to Covid-19.”

Sunlight a factor in glaring differences between Covid death tolls – dpa international

Sunny outdoors during the first pandemic lockdown in Malaysia, which has reported 1,313 deaths linked to Covid-19 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Data from hard-hit countries such as Britain, Italy and the United States suggest sunnier areas “are associated with fewer deaths from Covid-19,” according to scientists at the University of Edinburgh. Published in the British Journal of Dermatology, the study said “higher ambient UVA [ultraviolet A radiation] exposure” is “associated with lower Covid-19 specific mortality.” The team compared deaths linked to Covid-19 in the US from January to April 2020 with UV levels for almost 2,500 US counties, before replicating the methodology for Britain and Italy. The three countries have reported some of the world’s highest pandemic-related death numbers, both per capita and absolute, though fatalities dropped significantly during the summer months.

Despite optimism about global economy, IMF warns of pandemic poverty rise – dpa international

Would-be shoppers in Castlebar in Ireland during the brief period between the country's 2nd and 3rd lockdowns. Retailers have suffered due to countries veering in and out of lockdown since the start of the pandemic (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — The International Monetary Fund said on Tuesday the world economy could recover faster than expected this year, revising its January projection up by 0.5 percentage points to 6 per cent.The United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies, are likely to grow by 6.4 per cent and 8.4 per cent in 2021, driving the global rebound if pandemic-related economic curbs can be rolled back, the IMF said in a report published on Tuesday. But while “a way out of this health and economic crisis is increasingly visible,” according to the IMF’s Gita Gopinath, “divergent recovery paths” will likely result in increased poverty in so-called emerging markets and low-income countries, which could struggle to recover.

Unemployment stuck at around 25 per cent as Irish lockdown drags economy down – dpa international

Most sports in ireland have been banned as part the current lockdown, leaving pitches such as this in the west of Ireland empty and unused (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Unemployment in Ireland lingered near the 25-per-cent mark in March as a third pandemic lockdown continued to hammer the economy, according to official data released on Wednesday. Though the Central Statistics Office (CSO) said March’s 24.2 per cent unemployment was down slightly on February’s 24.8 per cent, pandemic restrictions continued “to have a significant impact on the labour market,” according to the CSO’s Catalina Gonzales. Many businesses were forced to close for a third time in less than a year after the Irish government imposed a third lockdown in December, less than a month after a second six-week lockdown ended. The government on Tuesday announced it will slowly unwind some of the measures from mid-April, saying people would be permitted “non-essential” journeys within their county of residence, beyond the current 5-kilometre limit.

Unemployment to linger in Ireland after economy recovers – dpa international

Empty main street in Castlebar, a west of Ireland town, in early March 2021 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s economy could recover “quite strongly” from pandemic-related curbs in 2021, but employment is unlikely to bounce back for at least two years, according to the state-funded Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI). In a report published on Thursday, the ESRI cut its earlier 2021 gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast from 5.2 per cent to 4.4 per cent, citing the likely impact of Ireland’s ongoing third lockdown, which was imposed in late December. The ESRI said the revised projection assumes “a gradual easing of restrictions” from next month and that Covid-19 jabs “will facilitate the broad relaxation of public health restrictions in the second half of 2021.” Ireland’s economy grew by 3.4 per cent in 2020 on the back of record exports in multinational-heavy sectors that have thrived during the pandemic.

Tests show common cold virus stopping coronavirus infection – dpa international

DUBLIN — The humble common cold virus blocks or displaces its deadlier Sars-Cov-2 counterpart from the human respiratory system, according to new research by a British-based team of scientists. In article published on Tuesday by the Journal of Infectious Diseases, the team said the cold virus also “triggers an innate immune response that blocks Sars-Cov-2 replication within the human respiratory epithelium.” Such “interference,” according to the researchers, who are mostly from the University of Glasgow, “might cause a population-wide reduction in the number of new Covid-19 infections.” Rhinoviruses that cause the common cold are “the most prevalent respiratory viruses of humans,” according to the paper. 

Focus on Covid sees ‘drastic’ rise in untreated TB – dpa international

dpa

DUBLIN — The coronavirus pandemic is having a “worse than expected” impact on deadly tuberculosis (TB), the Stop TB Partnership warned on Thursday. Repeat lockdowns have “prevented access to TB diagnostic and treatment services,” the partnership said, while the focus on the pandemic in hospitals and by governments has “severely disrupted TB responses in low- and middle-income countries.” The result has been a “drastic decline” in diagnosis and treatment, particularly in nine “high TB burden countries” such as India and Indonesia. According to India’s Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, who chairs the partnership’s board, “TB didn’t go anywhere when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.”

Irish imports from Britain down over 900 million euros in January – dpa international

Inside an Irish branch of the British Tesco supermarket chain (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s imports from Britain fell by 65 per cent in January after the British departure from the European Union led to more complicated trade with its nearest neighbour. Ireland’s Central Statistics Office (CSO) said on Thursday that imports from Britain fell 906 million euros (1.08 billion dollars) year-on-year to less than half a billion euros. Ireland usually sources around one-fifth of its goods imports from Britain, though the EU and the US account for most of the country’s overall trade. Irish exports to Britain saw a much smaller decline compared to imports of 14 per cent, the CSO said, to make up 7 per cent of the January total. Irish exports to Britain fell by almost 10 per cent in 2020.