Soils getting too salty, FAO says – dpa international

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Being described as ‘the salt of the earth’ is usually a good thing, going by the old saying. But with at least 20 per cent of the world’s irrigable soils damaged by salinization, according to a United Nations agency, there is, it seems, more truth to another old saw: that you can get too much of a good thing.While the right amount of sodium chloride is a necessary nutrient and staple that brings out the best in most meals, too much of it is not only bad for you, but also leaves soils less fertile and less productive, thereby posing “a threat to the global fight against hunger and poverty,” the Food and Agriculture Organization says.

Killer cats spread bacterial disease while they hunt – dpa international

Domestic cats have long been fingered as voracious hunters, causing dozens of native-mammal extinctions in Australia alone. But the purring predators bring with them another threat to the wild, according to research published by Britain’s Royal Society: the spread of disease. Scientists at the University of British Columbia in Canada said the prevalence of toxoplasmosis, which can cause flu-like symptoms in humans and cysts in wild animals, can be traced to the world’s estimated 600 million housecats, with the incidence of disease rising among wild animals in regions where pet cats are common.

IMF lowers Asia economic growth outlook after months of lockdowns – dpa international

A busy train station in Jakarta prior to all the pandemic lockdown chaos (Simon Roughneen)

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Tuesday cut its 2021 economic growth forecast for Asia to 6.5 per cent, citing “new peaks of the pandemic cycle.” Many countries in the region have reported record coronavirus-related deaths and case numbers in the months since the IMF’s April forecast of around 7.5-per-cent growth for this year. “The pandemic’s resurgence has triggered lockdowns that are hampering the recovery,” the IMF said, in its latest Asia-focused economic outlook. Despite the impact of the virus and the harsh restrictions applied in countries such as Australia and Malaysia, Asia is nonetheless is likely to remain the world’s fastest-growing region, the IMF said, while warning that the pandemic is widening a “divide” between the region’s advanced economies and their “emerging” or “developing” counterparts.

Pandemic’s economic impact “pales” compared to population decline, OECD says – dpa international

In a Malaysian train station shortly after the easing of Covid-related restrictions (Simon Roughneen)

While the coronavirus pandemic upended state spending plans and left economies reeling, its impact is likely to pale in comparison to challenges such as ageing populations, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The Paris-based group’s secretariat said on Tuesday that before the pandemic, governments were facing health spending rises of over two percentage points of gross domestic product (GDP) between now and 2060 and around the same for pensions in countries with what the OECD labelled “unfavourable demographics.” By comparison, recently accrued government debt to pay for pandemic-related social and health spending is likely to add “only about 1/2 percentage point of GDP to long-run fiscal pressure in the median country,” according to the OECD.

TB deaths up worldwide since start of Covid pandemic – dpa international

The number of deaths from tuberculosis (TB) increased last year for the first time in a decade, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday, putting the number at 1.5 million. The WHO blamed the rise on disruptions to health care during the coronavirus pandemic. The WHO’s annual report on TB, a preventable and curable disease, said the pandemic and related curbs had “reversed years of global progress” and warned that TB deaths could be “much higher” again this year and next. In 2020, the Geneva-based WHO said, “more people died from TB, with far fewer people being diagnosed and treated or provided with TB preventive treatment compared with 2019,” when around 1.4 million deaths from the bacterial respiratory disease were recorded.

Just a couple minutes of pandemic news can ruin your mood – dpa international

Queue outside a phone shop in Malaysia after the end of one of the country's pandemic lockdowns (Simon Roughneen)

Some countries have seemingly seen the worst of the coronavirus and have lifted many lockdown restrictions, and yet pandemic news can still “ruin a person’s mood” in just minutes, according to British and Canadian researchers. In a paper published in PLOS One, a medical journal, academics from the University of Essex and Simon Fraser University reported so-called “doomscrolling” through pandemic news shared on social media to be “one of the least enjoyable activities in a day.” That’s hardly a surprise, given that such stories have been a seemingly relentless drumbeat of daily case numbers and deaths, as well as updates about “government regulations and lifestyle restrictions.”

IMF cuts US and global GDP growth forecasts, citing “uncertainty” – dpa international

All quiet in a Kuala Lumpur shopping mall during one of Malaysia's pandemic lockdowns, which saw factories cut output due to restrictions on staff numbers, leading to supply shortages elsewhere in the world (Simon Roughneen)

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Tuesday cut its global economic growth forecast for 2021 to 5.9 per cent, citing “uncertainty about how quickly the [coronavirus] pandemic can be overcome.” In its latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF pared 0.1 percentage points off its July projection, in part due to “advanced economies” being hit by supply-chain disruptions that were exacerbated by recent pandemic outbreaks and lockdowns in Asia’s manufacturing hubs. Gita Gopinath, the IMF’s director of research, said “global recovery continues but momentum has weakened.” The Fund said it expects the world’s biggest economy, the US, to grow by 6 per cent this year, one percentage point down on what it projected in July, with China, the second-biggest, in line for 8-per-cent expansion.

Huge jump in mental health disorders since start of Covid pandemic – dpa international

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

The first year of the coronavirus pandemic saw a “stark rise” in mental health disorders, with around 160 million additional cases worldwide, according to estimates by doctors and scientists in Australia and the US. The findings suggest an “additional 53 million cases of major depressive disorder and 76 million cases of anxiety disorders” in 2020, increases of more than a quarter that were “due to the pandemic,” according to the team, which was led by researchers from the University of Queensland and University of Washington. The biggest jumps were in countries with the highest incidences of the virus or the severest restrictions on social and economic activity.

Singapore scientists float ‘airborne surveillance’ kit for coronavirus – dpa international

Singapore-based scientists have come up with a device that detects coronavirus in the air of indoor spaces, raising the prospect of “airborne surveillance” of the virus to supplement testing of individuals. The air-sampling method means “early warning of infection risks” could be possible in hospital wards and nursing homes, and could boost virus-monitoring capabilities in public places where people gather indoors, such as restaurants and cinemas.

‘Bored’ pet parrots prone to pining for the jungle – dpa international

The Norwegian Blue may only have been a fictional parrot species made famous by a Monty Python comedy sketch about a dead caged bird “pining for the fjords,” but real live pet parrots do, it seems, get the blues in captivity. That’s according to new research published by the Britain’s Royal Society, which suggests the bigger the captive bird’s brain, the more likely it is to exhibit “forms of abnormal behaviour,” such as chewing the bars of its cage or plucking its own feathers. The extent to which more intelligent parrot species are “prone to disease” and “apparently shortened lifespans” appears equivalent to the “mismatch” between captivity and life in the wild.