Scientists claim step closer to figuring out Parkinson’s disease – dpa international

Inside Singapore General Hospital (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A “crucial new piece of information” discovered by University of Cambridge-led researchers could mark a “vital step” towards understanding Parkinson’s disease, a debilitating neurological disorder. A paper published on Wednesday in the journal Nature Communications outlined what the university says is “compelling new evidence” about a “key protein” that affects neurons in the human brain. Giuliana Fusco, research fellow at the university’s St John’s College, said that “if we want to cure Parkinson’s, first we need to understand the function of alpha-synuclein, a protein present in everyone’s brains.”

Global trade plummeted in 2020 before East Asia drove late-year revival – dpa international

Customers lining up at a mobile phone shop inside a Kuala Lumpur mall on May 4 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Global trade shrank by 9 per cent in 2020 despite a late-year recovery in East Asia, according to estimates published on Wednesday by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The revival as “uneven,” with 8-per-cent fourth quarter growth in global merchandise or goods trade but stagnation in services, UNCTAD said.. While international commerce was “greatly affected” by “economic and social disruptions brought about by Covid-19,” East Asia registered “gains in global market share” after being able to “better weather the challenges of the pandemic,” according to the UN trade body.

Third Irish lockdown sees January unemployment soar to 25 per cent – dpa international

Shopping in a west of Ireland town after the end of Ireland's second lockdown in early December (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s third lockdown has seen unemployment jump to 25 per cent in January, a 5.6 percentage point increase on December’s revised 19.4 per cent. The government’s Central Statistics Office (CSO) said on Wednesday that “the Covid-19 crisis has continued to have a significant impact on the labour market in Ireland.” A second pandemic-related lockdown ended in early December after six weeks, only for a third national lockdown to be enforced at the end of the month after virus case numbers rose again. Businesses that reopened during the brief inter-lockdown period, such as restaurants, were compelled to close again.

Plant-based antiviral said to be ‘highly effective’ against Covid-19 – dpa international

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

DUBLIN — The little-known drug thapsigargin has proven “highly effective” against Covid-19, according to a University of Nottingham research team, which said the findings are “hugely significant.” The research, published on Wednesday in the journal Viruses, found that the plant-derived antiviral “triggers a highly effective broad-spectrum host-centred antiviral innate immune response against three major types of human respiratory viruses,” including the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19. Though “more testing is clearly needed,” according to research team leader Professor Kin-Chow Chang, “current findings strongly indicate that thapsigargin and its derivatives are promising antiviral treatments against Covid-19 and influenza virus.” Several treatments for virus-induced disease have been deployed since the first wave of the pandemic, including the steroid dexamethasone and an antibody cocktail developed by the company Regeneron, which was used on former US president Donald Trump when he was hospitalized in October.

Huge Covid-related death toll reported in Irish nursing homes – dpa international

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DUBLIN — Almost half of Ireland’s coronavirus-related fatalities have been in nursing homes, the parliamentary health committee heard on Tuesday. Health Department official Kathleen MacLellan told members of the Dáil, or parliament, that “1,543 people have lost their lives to Covid-19 in nursing homes, 369 of these in the past month.” By Tuesday morning Ireland’s Department of Health had reported 3,317 “probable and possible” Covid-related deaths, one-third of which were recorded in January. Covid-19 is the respiratory disease sometimes caused by the novel coronavirus. Of the almost 200,000 cases of the novel coronavirus reported since the first positive test almost one year ago, more than half were recorded last month, when Ireland was for a time recording the most cases per million of any country in Europe.

Wars threaten health of 600 million women and children – dpa international

DUBLIN — Protracted and messy wars mean over 600 million women and children worldwide struggle to access essential health care, according to estimates published in The Lancet medical journal., according to estimates published in The Lancet medical journal. By 2019, the authors wrote, there were 54 “state-based armed conflicts” in 35 countries – wars that had lasted an average of two decades and presented a “growing threat to humanitarian access and the delivery of essential health services, affecting at least 630 million women and children.” The research team, from nine institutions, including Stanford University and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, estimated that by 2017, 10 per cent of the world’s women and 6 per cent of children “were either forcibly displaced or living dangerously close to conflict zones.” From 2009-17, the number of women and children displaced by fighting jumped from around 30 million to over 50 million, with factors such as “population growth, more conflicts, increasing use of explosive and chemical weapons in urban areas” driving the rise.

Despite concerns raised elsewhere, Ireland shows highest approval for EU’s pandemic response – dpa international

Street in Castlebar in Ireland, the week after the end of the country's second lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN  – Over 70 per cent of Irish people back the European Union’s handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic and  vaccination roll-out, the highest rating of any of the bloc’s 27 member states, according to a new EU survey. The European Commission office in Ireland said on Wednesday that the survey, which was carried out last month by Eurobarometer, a part of the Commission, showed “strong approval in Ireland for the way the EU has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic.” Seventy-two per cent of the Irish surveyed said they were either “very satisfied” or “fairly satisfied” with “the way the EU has responded to the Covid-19.” The average across the EU’s 450 million people was 44 per cent, with Czechs the least happy with the EU’s response. In Germany and France, the two most powerful member states, satisfaction with the EU’s response reached 45 per cent and 36 per cent respectively.

OECD joblessness fell in November but stays above pre-pandemic level – dpa international

Grocery shopping in a supermarket in Ireland, where restrictions have forced many businesses to close for longer than elsewhere (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Unemployment among the member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) fell to 6.9 per cent in November, the group’s secretariat reported on Wednesday. That is down from 7.1 per cent the month before, but still 1.7 percentage points above pre-pandemic levels. Overall, 45.5 million people were listed as unemployed across the OECD’s 37 member states in November, 10.7 million more than in February, the last month before governments imposed widespread restrictions in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The OECD said that unemployment among the eurozone countries decreased slightly from October to November, from 8.4 to 8.3 per cent, after month-on-month joblessness fell in Finland, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal, but increased in France, Ireland and Spain.

Irish government apologises for mother and baby homes – dpa international

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DUBLIN — Ireland’s head of government Micheál Martin on Wednesday apologised on behalf of the state to former residents of so-called mother and baby homes for “unforgivable” treatment spanning nearly 8 decades. Citing a “profound generational wrong” inflicted on unmarried mothers and their children, Martin, Ireland’s Taoiseach, or Prime Minister, apologised “for the shame and stigma they were subjected to.” Martin’s statement to Ireland’s parliament came one day after the publication of findings by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. The almost 3000-pages-long report outlined a “very high rate of infant mortality” in the homes, which housed “about 56,000 unmarried mothers and about 57,000 children.”

Irish public broadcaster says sorry for sketch showing God as rapist – dpa international

Lining up at a shop in Knock, one of Ireland's main Catholic shrines, in early December 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — After receiving what is described as “a significant number” of complaints, Ireland’s national broadcaster RTÉ on Thursday apologized for and said it would remove from its website a sketch depicting God as a rapist that it broadcast as part of a New Year’s Eve countdown show. The public television and radio station said the item, which was “intended as satire,” did not comply with its Editorial Standards Board requirements. “On behalf of RTÉ, I fully apologize,” said director-general Dee Forbes. RTÉ, which receives state funding, on Wednesday said it had fielded “approximately 4,375 emails and 1,390 calls” regarding the mock news broadcast, which was written by satirical website Waterford Whispers News and voiced by Aengus Mac Grianna, a former  news anchor, who apologized earlier this week. The head of Ireland’s Catholic bishops, Eamon Martin, said he was “shocked” that the producers of the broadcast “did not realize how deeply offensive” the sketch was.