Online retail booms during pandemic but taxi and travel apps struggle – dpa international

DUBLIN — Online retail has boomed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, with worldwide e-commerce sales last year topping 26 trillion dollars, according to estimates by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Online retail jumped from 16 per cent to 19 per cent of total retail last year, according to UNCTAD calculations published on Monday, while global e-commerce increased by 4 per cent for sales of 26.7 trillion dollars, more than the gross domestic product of the United States, the world’s biggest economy. Ten of the top 13 e-commerce firms are from China or the United States, with Alibaba topping the list ahead of Amazon, and Canada’s Shopify the highest-ranked from a third country at five. While share of online sales across the world’s major economies grew, as on-off lockdowns forced people to spend large chunks of time indoors, UNCTAD said there had been a “notable reversal of fortunes for platform companies offering services such as ride hailing and travel.”

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. 

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.”

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.”

US health firm to hire 170 people in Ireland to research Covid vaccine safety – dpa international

On December 2 2020, Catholics attend the first Mass held in Knock Basilica in the west of Ireland after the end of Ireland's second pandemic lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — US health information and clinical research company IQVIA plans to appoint 170 people in Ireland to work on “ensuring vaccines administrated post authorization are safe for the public,” according to state investment agency IDA Ireland. Barry Mulchrone, IQVIA Ireland’s head of pharmacovigilance oversight and analytics, said the company is “proud to play a role in the humanitarian effort to ensure the safety profile of vaccines used for Covid-19 are monitored to the highest international standards.” Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister (Tánaiste) Leo Varadkar welcomed the IQVIA recruitment announcement, citing “positive indications recently regarding the potential for a Covid-19 vaccine.”

Microsoft expanding in Ireland with 200 new engineer recruits – dpa international

Outside an Amazon office in Dublin (Smon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — US computer and software maker Microsoft is hiring 200 engineers in Ireland and will build a new “engineering hub” to bolster its operations in the country, where it employs 2,500 people. Microsoft Ireland announced on Monday that “recruits will be involved in the development of new cloud services and technology solutions for customers around the globe.” Meeting Microsoft Ireland managing director Cathriona Hallahan at government headquarters in Dublin, Deputy Prime Minister (Tánaiste) Leo Varadkar labelled the announcement as “really good news” that could set Ireland up “to be a leader in engineering.” Hallahan said the expansion the country “at the centre of innovation,” while Martin Shanahan, chief executive of government investment agency IDA Ireland, said it shows Ireland’s attractiveness to investors “despite the unprecedented challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.” In contrast to the rest of the economy, Ireland’s large electronics/technology and pharmaceutical/medical sectors have prospered due to the pandemic and related restrictions.

Research suggests diabetics face heightened risk from coronavirus – dpa international

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DUBLIN — Having diabetes doubles the risk of death as a result of a novel coronavirus infection, according to research published on Thursday in The Lancet, a British medical journal. According to the journal article, “the vulnerability of people with diabetes during a public health emergency became evident by their at least 2 times increased risk of severe disease or death” after contracting the virus. “Individuals with poorly controlled diabetes, comorbidities, or both” are “especially” vulnerable to Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, doctors and scientists from countries including Australia, China, South Africa and the United States found. Official data put together by Johns Hopkins University show almost 1.3 million people having died after catching the virus. There has been over 52 million confirmed infections worldwide, though the World Health Organization said in October that the real number could be over 700 million.

Singapore team develops one-minute coronavirus test – dpa international

DUBLIN — Mention of a breathalyzer typically evokes images of a bedraggled five o’clock shadow peering bloodshot-eyed through a driver’s window after being pulled over by police. That could change if a new test for the novel coronavirus gets a second wind after successful first-round trials.. According to a Tuesday statement by the National University of Singapore (NUS), the device, which resembles a drink-driving breathalyzer, generates a result in around 60 seconds. The outcomes, which NUS reports as having proven 90 per cent accurate among the 180 people tested, “are generated in real-time” by analysis of “Volatile Organic Compounds” in a person’s breath. Jia Zhunan, doctor and chief executive officer of NUS spin-off company Breathonix, said the test is “is easy to administer,” needing neither trained staff nor laboratory processing.

New research could help doctors sniff out coronavirus infections – dpa international

Socially-distant queue to enter a shop in Sligo in the northwest of Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Failing to pick up the waft of garlic, coffee or perfume could be a clearer coronavirus warning than previously thought, according to research by University College London (UCL). The findings, published Thursday in the journal PLOS Medicine, were based on novel coronavirus antibody tests taken by 567 people whose senses of taste or smell deteriorated over the previous month. Some 78 per cent of those tested were carrying antibodies, meaning they had likely been infected. Anosmia, or loss of sense of smell, was three times more prevalent among the group than loss of taste. Most of those with antibodies otherwise felt only mild symptoms of Covid-19, with 40 per cent suffering neither cough nor fever – listed by the World Health Organization as among the “most common symptoms.” The WHO ranks loss of senses of smell or taste as “less common symptoms.”