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.

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.”

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.

Tests show common cold virus stopping coronavirus infection – dpa international

DUBLIN — The humble common cold virus blocks or displaces its deadlier Sars-Cov-2 counterpart from the human respiratory system, according to new research by a British-based team of scientists. In article published on Tuesday by the Journal of Infectious Diseases, the team said the cold virus also “triggers an innate immune response that blocks Sars-Cov-2 replication within the human respiratory epithelium.” Such “interference,” according to the researchers, who are mostly from the University of Glasgow, “might cause a population-wide reduction in the number of new Covid-19 infections.” Rhinoviruses that cause the common cold are “the most prevalent respiratory viruses of humans,” according to the paper. 

Focus on Covid sees ‘drastic’ rise in untreated TB – dpa international

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DUBLIN — The coronavirus pandemic is having a “worse than expected” impact on deadly tuberculosis (TB), the Stop TB Partnership warned on Thursday. Repeat lockdowns have “prevented access to TB diagnostic and treatment services,” the partnership said, while the focus on the pandemic in hospitals and by governments has “severely disrupted TB responses in low- and middle-income countries.” The result has been a “drastic decline” in diagnosis and treatment, particularly in nine “high TB burden countries” such as India and Indonesia. According to India’s Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, who chairs the partnership’s board, “TB didn’t go anywhere when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.”

Pandemic stalls cancer care for children, according to survey – dpa international

Near the entrance of a hospital in the west of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — The coronavirus pandemic has affected cancer care for children at more than three-quarters of hospitals worldwide, according to research published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal on Wednesday. The doctors and academics who carried out the study said they found “considerable disruption to cancer diagnosis” for children, with 43 per cent of hospitals “diagnosing fewer new cases than expected” since the pandemic started. The research was based on a survey of 311 health-care professionals at 213 institutions in 79 countries, and involved eight hospitals and universities in Britain, India, Morocco, Spain, Uruguay and the United States. With health-care systems focused on the virus, one in three hospitals said they had seen “a rise in the numbers of patients whose therapy did not begin or was delayed by four weeks or longer – known as treatment abandonment.”

Scientists claim discovery of genetic predisposition to severe Covid – dpa international

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DUBLIN — Scientists at Russia’s Higher School of Economics (HSE) said they have discovered a “genetic predisposition to severe Covid-19,” the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. In research published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, the HSE team attributed the susceptibility to a set of six molecules that contribute to T-Cell immunity, “one of the key mechanisms used by the human body to fight virus infections.” While the molecules, known as human leukocyte antigen class I (HLA- I), are “unique in every human,” whether they destroy the novel coronavirus “is largely determined by genetics,” as the molecules are inherited from parents. “If a person has a set that is bad at such detection, a more severe case of disease is more likely.”

Ireland not even halfway through third lockdown, according to taoiseach – dpa international

The usually busy main street in Knock, a popular Catholic pilgrimage town in Ireland. As seen at evening time during Ireland's third coronavirus lockdown.

DUBLIN — Almost two months into Ireland’s third coronavirus lockdown, Prime Minister Micheál Martin said the country “is looking at a continuation of severe restrictions” until the end of April, despite case numbers plummeting since a January peak. Martin made the warning in a late-night Thursday interview with the Irish Mirror newspaper, in which he said extending the lockdown would be “worth it.” Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Féin, Ireland’s main opposition party, slammed Martin’s comments as “flippant.” Peadar Tóibīn, head the small opposition party Aontú, said the government’s proposed extension amounted to “policy failure.”

Forest peoples accuse governments of using pandemic to damage jungles – dpa international

DUBLIN — The novel coronavirus pandemic has facilitated government-backed “economic opportunism” in the world’s rainforests, according to a report published on Thursday. Authorities in Brazil, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia and Peru “have set aside social and environmental safeguards in favour of destructive development projects that are harming indigenous communities,” said the Forest People’s Programme, a British-based organization that works with indigenous people’s representatives in dozens of countries.

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.”