Conservationists warn almost a third of tree species could die out – dpa international

Trees are plentiful in Dublin's Pheonix Park (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Some of the world’s most recognisable trees, including oak, magnolia and maple, are among the 30 per cent of species at risk of extinction, according to Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). Published on Wednesday, the BGCI’s State of the World’s Trees report warned that over 17,000 of the world’s 60,000 kinds of tree could soon be no more due to logging, forest clearances, farming and extreme weather. The most vulnerable are 440 species which “have fewer than 50 individuals remaining,” according to the report, which the BGCI said was based on five years of work involving 60 institutions and 500 researchers. Around one in five tree species are used by humans “for food, fuel, timber, medicines, horticulture,” the BGCI said, with only around 40 per cent of species confirmed as not at risk.

Car makers face chip shortage as pandemic curbs hinder Asian factories – dpa international

Social distancing in May 2020 on a city train in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a major manufacturer of electronics and related parts (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ford’s Cologne factory is to pause production of Fiesta models due to a shortage of semiconductors usually sourced from Malaysian factories, which have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and related government restrictions. The shutdown is to begin on Thursday and last at least two weeks, the company said on Wednesday, and comes as factories around the world are being hit with shortages of computer chips and other components due to manufacturing supply chains snapping due to pandemic curbs. Toyota and Volkswagen are among the other car brands to recently warn of slowing production due to tightening supplies of chips. According to Capital Economics, with “virus disruption” likely to last “at least the next couple of months,” the global shortage of chips is “unlikely to get better any time soon.”

Pandemic lays bare global welfare gap leaving 4 billion unprotected – dpa international

At work in a mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a so-called middle-income economy, shortly after the relaxing of the county's first pandemic lockdown in May 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — More than half the world’s people lack “social protection coverage” and have been left wide open to “economic shock waves” since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). The ILO, a United Nations body, said in its World Social Protection Report 2020-22 that the pandemic has shown up how billions of people are vulnerable to “high levels of economic insecurity, persistent poverty, rising inequality, extensive informality and a fragile social contract.” While most Western countries and others such as Japan and Singapore “marshalled social protection as a front-line response to protect people’s health, jobs and incomes” as the pandemic spread and related curbs on economic activity were imposed, many low and middle income countries have struggled to emulate wealthier counterparts.

Dogs can forecast epileptic seizures, according to Belfast-based scientists – dpa international

DUBLIN – Man’s best friend can not only warn off burglars, herd farm animals or sniff out bombs and drugs, but can be predict epileptic seizures, according to Queen’s University Belfast (QUB). The seizures “are associated with a specific smell which is detectable by pet dogs,” a university-led research team said. Anecdotes about behaviourial changes in dogs suggested they were aware of impending seizures, but no scientific study had until now “investigated the veracity of these claims,” QUB said. Published in the journal MDPI Animals, the findings could help develop a “reliable” and potentially life-saving early warning system” for the world’s 65 million people who live with epilepsy, of which around 30 per cent “cannot control their seizures by medication.”

Around 150 birds of prey species face “persecution” and possible extinction – dpa international

DUBLIN — Some of the world’s most majestic eagles and swiftest hawks could soon be no more, according to research published by the National Academy of Sciences in the US. Up to thirty per cent of the planet’s 557 species of raptors “are at risk of extinction,” say researchers from the National Autonomous University in Mexico, a country home to over 90 different kinds of raptor, the fourth-highest number after Indonesia, Colombia and Ecuador. According to the team, the past three decades have seen “many species” experience “severe population declines” due to “habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, human–wildlife conflicts, and global climate alterations.” While raptors such as falcons have been kept for hunting and underpinned family prestige by appearing on heraldry, others have been “persecuted,” the authors said, due to “predation of game species and livestock.”

Plastic rubbish causing land and freshwater migratory animals to suffer – dpa international

Sunset over the Mekong River running past Luang Prabang in Laos (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Asia’s land and freshwater species are “among the most vulnerable” to plastic contamination, according to a new report that the United Nations said is the first to look into how migratory animals are affected by the pollution. The UN’s Secretariat for the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) looked at the plight of animals living around the Mekong and Ganges river basins, from where around 200,000 tons of plastic rubbish flow into the Indian and Pacific Oceans each year. The CMS found that freshwater mammals such as river dolphins and dugongs are “particularly at risk” from drowning after getting tangled in rubbish such as discarded fishing gear or after swallowing plastic. Birds and smaller mammals along the two rivers have been found tangled in kite strings and fishing nets.

Mayo Clinic research suggests Trump’s antibody ‘cure’ curbs Covid-19 – dpa international

DUBLIN — A blend of antibody drugs has proven effective among vulnerable patients showing symptoms of Covid-19, according to the Mayo Clinic. Published by The Lancet, a British medical journal, the findings show a combination of casirivimab and imdevimab drugs help ensure “high-risk patients” do not need hospitalisation if hit with “mild to moderate Covid-19.” The clinic gave the drugs, described as “monoclonal antibody treatments under Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency use authorization,” to almost 700 patients out of 1,400 enrolled in the study. 1.6 per cent of recipients were in hospital 28 days later along with 4.8 per cent of non-recipients, the medics reported.”Once again, this real-world study suggests that when patients who are at high risk due to a range of co-morbidities contract a mild or moderate case of Covid-19, this combination of monoclonal injections gives them a chance of a non-hospitalized recovery,” said Raymund Razonable, an infectious diseases specialist with the clinic.

OECD says most big economies yet to shake off virus effects despite recent growth – dpa international

In Dublin, the capital of Ireland, where the government has been slow to lift coronavirus restrictions compared to neighbours (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Most of the world’s big economies are running below pre-pandemic levels despite “accelerating” growth in the second quarter of this year, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Overall gross domestic product (GDP) across the OECD remains 0.7 per cent below that reported at the end of 2019, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic was declared, the Paris-based OECD said on Monday. That’s despite GDP expanding 1.6 per cent across the Group of 7 (G7) economies in the second quarter, up from 0.4 per cent in the first three months of the year. There were “strong variations” among what the OECD calls the “Major Seven” economies, which does not include China, which does not inclide the world’s second biggest GDP after the the US. Britain grew growing the fastest of the 7, at almost 5 per cent from April to June, after a near 2-per-cent contraction during the previous three months, when, like in many Western countries, economically-debilitating pandemic restrictions were in place.

Birth rates in wealthy nations down since start of pandemic – dpa international

DUBLIN — Birth rates have fallen by almost 10 per cent in some wealthy countries since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to research published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US. Using monthly live birth numbers from 2016 to March this year, the researchers reported “preliminary evidence” showing the pandemic has “decreased fertility” in all but 4 of 22 “high income countries” studied. The authors, from the University of Oxford, Cornell University and Universita Commerciale Luigi Bocconi in Milan, factored in seasonality and long term trends, but nonetheless estimated a 9.4 per cent fall in Italy and more than 8 per cent in Hungary and Spain. “Belgium, Austria, and Singapore also showed a significant decline in crude birth rates,” they said.

Not all in the genes: some scientists say age is a bigger factor in illness – dpa international

DUBLIN — The interplay of age and vulnerability to illness has been under unprecedented spotlight due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed mostly older people affected by pre-existing conditions or ‘co-morbidities.’ with huge death tolls in nursing homes in many countries. But while the conventional wisdom – that people are more likely to get sick as they get older – still holds, according to the University of Oxford, their health in general, for good or bad, is less likely to be affected by genes as Father Time catches up.