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Lifeline remittances stay steady despite pandemic and recessions – dpa international

DUBLIN — Global remittances fell by 1.6 per cent last year to 540 billion dollars, a less-than-expected decline in what the World Bank labelled “lifeline” cashflows for millions of people. The global total, which amounts to around the same as Belgium’s gross domestic product (GDP), held up far better than other economic indicators, according to a bank report published on Wednesday. The bank earlier estimated a global GDP fall of 4.3 per cent and a 30 per cent drop in foreign investment into low and middle-income countries in 2020.

Democracy undermined by pandemic restrictions, according to Council of Europe – dpa international

Restrictions have seen pubs such as this at the foot of Ireland's best-known pilgrimage mountain Croagh Patrick closed for most of the time since March 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Restrictions imposed to slow the coronavirus pandemic have “compounded” what the Council of Europe describes in a new report as “democratic backsliding” across the continent. According to Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric, even “legitimate actions” by governments to deal with the virus have curtailed liberties “in ways that would be unacceptable in normal times.” “The danger is that our democratic culture will not fully recover,” Pejcinovic Buric warned.  The council’s 47 members, which include some of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, have veered in and out of lockdowns of varying duration and severity since March 2020.

With most sports banned, Ireland’s long lockdown saw walkers step up – dpa international

Sports facilities such as this Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) Centre of Excellence in Co. Mayo in the west of Ireland have been closed for most of the past year due to government restrictions (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s recent third pandemic lockdown led to an increase in “recreational walking,” according to Sport Ireland, a government body, with the usual mist-laced winter gales blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean proving no deterrent to a population otherwise told to stay at home for months on end. The report said “overall levels of physical activity have increased on 2019 figures,” with the percentage of Irish adults “walking for recreation” climbing from 65 per cent before the pandemic to 76 per cent during the first quarter of 2021, slightly below the high reported during Ireland’s first lockdown last year. “Running and cycling experienced similar fluxes,” according to Sport Ireland, with the early 2021 step-up in numbers coming “despite a decrease in organised sport participation.” The lockdowns required people to mostly remain within five kilometres of home, another limit that seemingly did not deter walkers.

Some Irish business sectors reviving ahead of end of long lockdown – dpa international

Pandemic restrictions have left usually-busy streets empty, such as in this west of Ireland town as seen in March 2021, nearly 3 months into Ireland’s 3rd stay-home lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s services industries picked up last month ahead of the government ending a third coronavirus lockdown, according to a survey of around 400 businesses published on Thursday. The jump was the strongest since the pandemic started, going by April’s Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), which said “total activity and new business both increased at the fastest rates since February 2020.” Published by Allied Irish Banks (AIB) and IHS Markit, which produces monthly PMIs covering manufacturing and services in dozens of countries, the survey reported rising employment in media, telecoms and financial services, but said there was “broadly no change” in tourism or leisure, sectors unlikely to reopen until later this year. “Although much of the services sector remains in lockdown, the data are encouraging,” said AIB economist Oliver Mangan.

Online retail booms during pandemic but taxi and travel apps struggle – dpa international

DUBLIN — Online retail has boomed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, with worldwide e-commerce sales last year topping 26 trillion dollars, according to estimates by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Online retail jumped from 16 per cent to 19 per cent of total retail last year, according to UNCTAD calculations published on Monday, while global e-commerce increased by 4 per cent for sales of 26.7 trillion dollars, more than the gross domestic product of the United States, the world’s biggest economy. Ten of the top 13 e-commerce firms are from China or the United States, with Alibaba topping the list ahead of Amazon, and Canada’s Shopify the highest-ranked from a third country at five. While share of online sales across the world’s major economies grew, as on-off lockdowns forced people to spend large chunks of time indoors, UNCTAD said there had been a “notable reversal of fortunes for platform companies offering services such as ride hailing and travel.”

Ireland set to end long-running pandemic lockdown next month – dpa international

The parish church in the Irish pilgrimage town of Knock, where Mass has not been celebrated in public since late 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland will end one of Europe’s longest and strictest pandemic lockdowns next month by accelerating a phased relaxation plan to allow restaurants and pubs to reopen sooner than expected and public religious services to resume. Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told broadcaster Newstalk on Thursday that “from the 10th of May there will be changes in restrictions, quite significant ones.”  Services such as hairdressers and “non-essential” retailers are expected to get the green light to reopen, with a ban on and related criminalisation of attending religious services expected to be lifted at the same time. The capacity limit on public transport is to be doubled from the current 25 per cent. Outdoor service at pubs and restaurants could resume in June, according to media reports that a revised reopening plan would be announced on Thursday – accounts Coveney said were “quite accurate.”

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.