Europeans feeling less free since pandemic started, survey shows – dpa international

Reduced numbers and mask mandates have been widely imposed on public transport systems as a virus-related restriction (Simon Roughneen)

Only one in five of Europeans claim to “still feel free in their everyday life,” around a third as many as before the coronavirus pandemic. A survey published this week by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) showed 22 per cent of respondents claiming to feel free, “compared to 64 per cent who say they felt free two years ago, before the pandemic struck.” The poll, carried out in May and June and taking in over 16,000 people, suggested 41 per cent of Hungarians and 38 per cent of Spaniards “currently feel free,” the highest among the 12 countries canvassed. Meanwhile one in two Germans, the most of any country, say they are “not free” – despite being put under arguably less onerous restrictions than elsewhere.

Scientists say nature conservation can prevent pandemics – dpa international

Pandemic-related 'social distancing' message, outdoors, in Dublin's Glasnevin Cemetery (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — More work is needed to stop potential “spillover” of pathogens from animals to humans, according to scientists investigating pandemic prevention. In a report published on Wednesday by Harvard University, scientists from several continents argued governments should “integrate” public health and nature conservation measures to help prevent animal-human disease spread. The team believes that “reducing deforestation and regulating the wildlife trade” could come in at “as little” as 22 billion dollars a year, roughly around 2 per cent of “the economic and mortality costs of responding to Covid-19.”

Survey shows some medical research undermined by funder demands – dpa international

The coronavirus pandemic has led to pressure on medics and scientists over issues such as initial shortages of protective gloves, such as these seen discarded on a Dublin street, to demands about virus-related research ISimon Roughneen)

DUBLIN –Around one-fifth of scientists working on health-related research have faced pressure from funders over “unfavourable” findings, according to survey results published on Wednesday. Eighteen per cent of those questioned said they were “asked to suppress certain findings as they were viewed as being unfavourable,” according to a summary published in science journal PLOS by Australia-based academics, including from the University of Newcastle and Swinburne University of Technology. Some of the scientists and medics who were surveyed said they faced “subtle pressure” from their research paymasters, such as conveying hopes for “positive findings,” or blunter constraints such as government funding agreements that “require researchers to obtain funder approval to publish reports.” The survey covered researchers involved in over 200 trials related to nutrition, physical activity, sexual health, smoking, and substance use. Two-thirds of those polled were based in Europe or North America, with a fifth of them listed as in Oceania.

Ireland’s bishops challenge government’s restrictions on some ceremonies – dpa international

St. Saviour's Catholic church in Dublin in mid-July 2021 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s government and several Catholic bishops have clashed over whether already-postponed first communion and confirmation ceremonies should be put off until later in the year. Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said plans by three of Ireland’s 26 dioceses to proceed with the ceremonies, which usually take place during the school year but have been postponed as part of pandemic curbs, amounted to “putting lives at risk.” Donnelly’s warning followed similar comments by Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Michéal Martin late last week. However the health minister acknowledged as correct an interpretation advanced last week by Kevin Doran, bishop of the western Elphin diocese, that the apparent bans are guidelines rather than laws. Alphonsus Cullinan, bishop in the southern town of Waterford, said on Saturday he could “see no valid reason for the further postponement of the sacraments,” after crowds returned to sports events.

Irish government’s pub reopening plan criticised as “discriminatory” – dpa international

Outdoor drinking on a June Sunday afternoon in Galway (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Pubs in Ireland’s capital Dublin have slammed government plans to make them screen customers for proof of coronavirus vaccination as “discriminatory” and likely to spark conflict. The Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) said the measures, which would apply nationwide as part of a plan to reopen indoor service in restaurants and pubs, “will lead to flashpoints between hospitality staff and potential customers.” “Our members are already reporting there is real anger about this,” according to LVA chief Donall O’Keefe, who on Tuesday said there are “major question marks” about enforcement of the proposed rules, which would also cover customers with proof of previous coronavirus infection. However the LVA believes it has “no option” but “to go along” with plan due to the government’s threat to otherwise retain Europe’s sole remaining ban on indoor drinking and dining until at least September.

Chinese cyber power not a match for the US’s, according to experts – dpa international

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

DUBLIN  — Despite long-running allegations of Chinese hacking of Western governments and businesses, Beijing’s “cyber power” is “clearly inferior” to that of its chief rival, the US, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). China is “unlikely to match US cyber capabilities for the next decade at least,” according to the IISS, which regularly stages conferences involving some of the world’s most powerful defence ministries. The US is out on its own as the world’s leading cyber power, the IISS said, in a new 174-page report looking at the “cyber capabilities” of 15 countries.

Singapore aiming to live with flu-like ‘endemic’ Covid-19 – dpa international

DUBLIN — Singapore’s government on Thursday said it should be possible “to live normally” with Covid-19, which it expects to become “endemic” like influenza.  The three ministers responsible for the government’s coronavirus response announced “a broad plan” to “turn the pandemic into something much less threatening.” Pointing to the example of influenza, Trade Minister Gan Kim Yong, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong and Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that “we can work towards a similar outcome for Covid-19.” 

Irish GDP up 7.8 per cent though local businesses hurt by lockdowns – dpa international

Retaliers deemed 'non essential' such as this sports shop, were not permitted to open during Ireland's pandemic lockdowns (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s gross domestic product grew by 7.8 per cent in the first quarter of the year due to surging exports by multinational corporations, according to official estimates. However, gross national product, a measurement which cuts out multinationals, fell by 1 per cent quarter-on-quarter, the government’s Central Statistics Office (CSO) said on Friday. According to the CSO’s Jennifer Banim, “the tightening of Covid-19 related restrictions led to lower levels of economic activity for many of the sectors focused on the domestic market.” Ireland’s government lifted a third pandemic lockdown in May after almost five months of restrictions that were ranked among Europe’s harshest by the University of Oxford.

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.