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.”

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.

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.”

Excess TV in middle age could cause brain decline in later life, US scientists say – dpa international

With millions of people told to stay at home as part of pandemic lockdowns, TV viewing numbers have increased (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — “Too much television is bad for you” is more than just an adage parroted by exasperated parents at heedless, homework-shirking teenagers, going by research carried out by US-based scientists. Using information gleaned from three surveys and studies involving more than 17,000 people, academics from Columbia University, the University of Alabama and Johns Hopkins University (JHU) said they believe “moderate-to-high TV viewing in midlife” contributes to “later cognitive and brain health decline.” Watching films, shows and other TV content, the researchers warned, “is a type of sedentary behaviour that is cognitively passive or does not require much thought.”

Ireland’s hospitals hit by ‘sophisticated’ cyberattack – dpa international

Sign for a coronavirus vaccination centre in the west of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A cyberattack on Ireland’s Health Service Executive is “having a severe impact on our health and social care services today,” according to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, with hospitals across the country battling disruptions. The University of Limerick Hospitals Group warned of “long delays” at its six facilities, while the Ireland East group said staff at its 11 hospitals were asking for “the public’s patience at this time.” Although emergency departments remain open, “delays should be expected while hospitals move to manual, offline processes,” the HSE said later on Friday. The National Maternity Hospital said “a major IT issue” would mean “significant disruption,” while Fergal Malone, master of the Rotunda Hospital, said the attack forced staff to “revert back to old-fashioned based record-keeping.”

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.”