Getting more sun could help against opioid “scourge,” US medics say – dpa international

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

DUBLIN –A lack of Vitamin D “strongly exaggerates the craving for and effects of opioids,” according to researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital. The vitamin, which has been touted for potentially reducing the effects of coronavirus, is produced naturally in the human body after exposure to sunlight. So not getting outdoors enough means “potentially increasing the risk for [opioid] dependence and addiction,” according to the research, which was published on Friday by the journal Science Advances. For those living in cloudier regions, Vitamin D supplements could help address “the ongoing scourge of opioid addiction.”

Poorer nations face bigger food bills as prices surge – dpa international

DUBLIN — Less well-off countries are facing bigger food bills, according to the United Nations, which on Thursday said the world’s food imports are set to increase by 12 per cent this year to 1.72 trillion dollars, equivalent to Russia’s gross domestic product. In its biannual report on global food markets, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated consumer prices for proteins and calories to have increased by between 20 and 34 per cent compared to a year ago, risking “deteriorating quantitative and qualitative dietary trends in vulnerable countries” where food can account for up to half of household spending. The FAO last week estimated an overall annual jump in food costs of around 40 per cent, due to “a surge in prices for oils, sugar and cereals.”

World Bank forecasts ‘uneven’ 5.6 per cent global economic growth this year – dpa international

Pedestrians seen on Grafton St., one of Dublin's main shopping avenues, in late May 2021. Ireland's economy was one of the few to grow last year (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — The global economy should expand by 5.6 per cent this year but developing countries will struggle to keep up due to “the pandemic’s lasting effects,” the World Bank said on Tuesday. While such growth would be “the fastest post-recession pace in 80 years,” overall global output could remain 2 per cent less than if the pandemic had not happened and the ensuing restrictions on business were not imposed, the bank estimated. While pent up demand could result in wealthy, large economies such as the US and China growing by 6.8 per cent and 8.5 per cent respectively, smaller and poorer nations will have to wait until next year to recover per capita income losses, the bank warned, meaning global growth will be “uneven.” Per capita incomes in many emerging market economies are expected “to remain below pre-pandemic levels,” the bank cautioned, which would likely “worsen deprivations associated with health, education and living standards.”

Pandemic and lockdowns drive food prices up but send diet quality down – dpa international

DUBLIN — The coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions have jacked up food prices around the world and spurred a surge in unhealthy eating, according to a set of papers published on Monday by the American Society for Nutrition. According to author Caroline Um of the American Cancer Society, the researchers found a “decrease in the consumption of many food groups, particularly healthy foods such as vegetables and whole grains, compared to before the pandemic.” “We saw panic buying, problems in the food supply chain, increases in food prices and rising unemployment rates,” Um said. Researchers at Tufts University said food prices went up across 133 countries as pandemic-related curbs were introduced. “More stringent restrictions were linked with a higher price of food and a higher ratio of food prices to prices across all consumer goods,” they said.

Scientists claim quantum leap for secure communications – dpa international

Pandemic restrictions have left usually-busy city landmarks quiet as people work from home and conduct meetings online.(Simon Roughneen

DUBLIN — After more than a year of easy-to-hack pandemic-induced Zoom meetings, the world could be “one step closer to ultimately secure conference calls,” according to a British-led team of scientists. The group, which includes academics from Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf, claim in the journal Science Advances to have discovered how to facilitate hack-proof “quantum-secure conversation” between four parties. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, what the team calls the “global reliance on remote collaborative working, including conference calls,” has led to a “significant escalation of cyberattacks on popular teleconferencing platforms in the last year.” The team said their newly published research is “a timely advance” that “could lead to conference calls with inherent unhackable security measures, underpinned by the principles of quantum physics.”

Irish GDP up 7.8 per cent though local businesses hurt by lockdowns – dpa international

Retaliers deemed 'non essential' such as this sports shop, were not permitted to open during Ireland's pandemic lockdowns (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s gross domestic product grew by 7.8 per cent in the first quarter of the year due to surging exports by multinational corporations, according to official estimates. However, gross national product, a measurement which cuts out multinationals, fell by 1 per cent quarter-on-quarter, the government’s Central Statistics Office (CSO) said on Friday. According to the CSO’s Jennifer Banim, “the tightening of Covid-19 related restrictions led to lower levels of economic activity for many of the sectors focused on the domestic market.” Ireland’s government lifted a third pandemic lockdown in May after almost five months of restrictions that were ranked among Europe’s harshest by the University of Oxford.

Only China realizing potential, says economist behind BRICs moniker – dpa international

DUBLIN  — Two decades after coining the acronym BRICs – grouping the economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China – economist Jim O’Neill believes only China  is “fully achieving its potential.” In an article published on Wednesday by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), O’Neill said that, while the quartet’s economies fared relatively well before the 2008 global financial crisis, India has since “notably disappointed,” while Brazil and Russia have posted “very disappointing” performances. China’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth exceeded that of the other three BRICS for all but three years between 2001-19, according to World Bank data, leaving it with an economy twice the size of the other three put together.

Murders an ‘exception’ as city crime drops by a third during lockdowns – dpa international

Pandemic restrictions have left city landmarks, such as this mall in Kuala Lumpur seen during Malaysia's first lockdown last year, mostly empty (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Pandemic lockdowns coincided with “significant” falls in crime rates in 27 cities across 23 countries, according to academics from the University of Cambridge and the University of Utrecht. The research, which was published on Wednesday in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, suggested that rates of “most types of crime” dropped “significantly” in the wake of an “unparalleled sudden change in daily life.” However, homicides fell by a relatively low 14 per cent overall in what the team said was “a key exception” to their findings. With people in many cities forced to mostly stay at home by pandemic-related curbs, Amy Nivette of the University of Utrecht, in the Netherlands, said “restrictions on urban mobility may have little effect on domestic murders.”

Pandemic travel collapse continuing into 2021, says UN agency – dpa international

Pandemic curbs led to a collapse in travel and tourism, affecting visitor numbers to attractions such as Croagh Patrick, a pilgrimage mountain on Ireland's Atlantic coast (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) said on Wednesday that first-quarter arrivals were down 83 per cent on the same period last year, as pandemic restrictions continued to hold back international travel. Official data collated by the United Nations agency showed Asia and the Pacific continuing “to suffer the lowest levels of activity with a 94 per cent drop in international arrivals over the three-month period.” North America reported the smallest decline, at 71 per cent, while arrivals in Europe were down by over 80 per cent. The UNWTO said the weak first-quarter numbers followed last year’s record annual 73-per-cent fall in arrival numbers worldwide, which cost the sector an estimated 1.1 trillion dollars, equivalent to Indonesia’s gross domestic product (GDP). Travel ground to a halt in March 2020 after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a pandemic.

OECD says world economy to grow at an ‘uneven’ 6 per cent this year – dpa international

Businesses such as this retailer in Ireland have been foced to close by pandemic restrictions. Patrons seen here lining up to enter after the end of Ireland's third lockdown in May 2021 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — The global economy could grow by “nearly 6 per cent” this year, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said on Monday, while warning that recovery from pandemic-related losses will be “very uneven.” Growth will be driven by the world’s three main economic powers, with China’s gross domestic product (GDP) set to expand by more than 8 per cent, the Paris-based OECD said. The US should be close behind, registering nearly 7 per cent GDP growth, with the European Union clocking a higher-than-usual 4.25 per cent.But while this year’s projected rebound would amount to “an impressive surge after the 3.5-per-cent contraction in 2020” it is unlikely to return living standards “to the level expected before the pandemic” by the end of next year, the OECD said in its 2021 Economic Outlook, which noted that pandemic-related curbs have made it more difficult to estimate GDP and “may have reduced the comparability of economic outcomes across countries.”