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OECD says more people back at work in July as economies recover slowly – dpa international

Bus stop outside a Dublin café in July (Simon Roughneen)

Unemployment across the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) fell for the third consecutive month in July, the group’s Paris-based secretariat said on Thursday. As countries continued to mostly ease coronavirus pandemic restrictions, joblessness dropped by 0.2 per cent to 6.2 per cent of the OECD-area workforce. However, unemployment remained almost 1 per cent above the 5.27 per cent recorded in February last year, the month before the World Health Organizaton declared a pandemic and most countries imposed lockdowns that froze swathes of their economies. Overall, around 1.6 million people were taken off unemployment registers across the OECD in July, leaving over 41 million people without a job.

All in the rhythm – US doctors claim asthma management breakthrough – dpa international

Asthma inhaler (Simon Roughneen)

An asthmatic can ditch the cigarettes, steer clear of pollen and dust, take regular pulls on a trusty inhaler, and top all that off with running, cycling, swimming – but in the end, all those good habits might not matter as much as previously assumed. At least not at night, because once the sun sets, according to US doctors and scientists, the body’s natural circadian rhythms “have a stand-alone impact on asthma severity, independent of behavioral and environmental factors.”

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.

Airlines say travel numbers up but still just half of 2019 levels – dpa international

Beach in Ireland, July 2021. Visitors to beaches in 2021 are mosty travellers from within the same country (Simon Roughneen

International and domestic travel demand showed “significant momentum” in July compared to the previous month but remained overall 53 per cent below what was recorded in the same month in 2019, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). “Extensive government-imposed travel restrictions continue to delay recovery in international markets,” said the IATA, which represents almost 300 airlines carrying around 8 in 10 of the world’s passengers. There were huge differences between some regions and between domestic travel, which by July had recovered to within around 15 per cent of pre-pandemic numbers, and international, where the difference was a whopping 73.6 per cent, the IATA said. In June, domestic travel was 22 per cent less than the same month two years ago, while international travel was down 80 per cent. The hardest hit region remains the Asia-Pacific, which in July saw a near 95-per-cent-fall in international traffic compared to 2019, only slightly better than during the worst of the pandemic.

Conservationists warn almost a third of tree species could die out – dpa international

Trees are plentiful in Dublin's Pheonix Park (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Some of the world’s most recognisable trees, including oak, magnolia and maple, are among the 30 per cent of species at risk of extinction, according to Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). Published on Wednesday, the BGCI’s State of the World’s Trees report warned that over 17,000 of the world’s 60,000 kinds of tree could soon be no more due to logging, forest clearances, farming and extreme weather. The most vulnerable are 440 species which “have fewer than 50 individuals remaining,” according to the report, which the BGCI said was based on five years of work involving 60 institutions and 500 researchers. Around one in five tree species are used by humans “for food, fuel, timber, medicines, horticulture,” the BGCI said, with only around 40 per cent of species confirmed as not at risk.

Car makers face chip shortage as pandemic curbs hinder Asian factories – dpa international

Social distancing in May 2020 on a city train in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a major manufacturer of electronics and related parts (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ford’s Cologne factory is to pause production of Fiesta models due to a shortage of semiconductors usually sourced from Malaysian factories, which have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and related government restrictions. The shutdown is to begin on Thursday and last at least two weeks, the company said on Wednesday, and comes as factories around the world are being hit with shortages of computer chips and other components due to manufacturing supply chains snapping due to pandemic curbs. Toyota and Volkswagen are among the other car brands to recently warn of slowing production due to tightening supplies of chips. According to Capital Economics, with “virus disruption” likely to last “at least the next couple of months,” the global shortage of chips is “unlikely to get better any time soon.”

Pandemic lays bare global welfare gap leaving 4 billion unprotected – dpa international

At work in a mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a so-called middle-income economy, shortly after the relaxing of the county's first pandemic lockdown in May 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — More than half the world’s people lack “social protection coverage” and have been left wide open to “economic shock waves” since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). The ILO, a United Nations body, said in its World Social Protection Report 2020-22 that the pandemic has shown up how billions of people are vulnerable to “high levels of economic insecurity, persistent poverty, rising inequality, extensive informality and a fragile social contract.” While most Western countries and others such as Japan and Singapore “marshalled social protection as a front-line response to protect people’s health, jobs and incomes” as the pandemic spread and related curbs on economic activity were imposed, many low and middle income countries have struggled to emulate wealthier counterparts.

Dogs can forecast epileptic seizures, according to Belfast-based scientists – dpa international

DUBLIN – Man’s best friend can not only warn off burglars, herd farm animals or sniff out bombs and drugs, but can be predict epileptic seizures, according to Queen’s University Belfast (QUB). The seizures “are associated with a specific smell which is detectable by pet dogs,” a university-led research team said. Anecdotes about behaviourial changes in dogs suggested they were aware of impending seizures, but no scientific study had until now “investigated the veracity of these claims,” QUB said. Published in the journal MDPI Animals, the findings could help develop a “reliable” and potentially life-saving early warning system” for the world’s 65 million people who live with epilepsy, of which around 30 per cent “cannot control their seizures by medication.”

Around 150 birds of prey species face “persecution” and possible extinction – dpa international

DUBLIN — Some of the world’s most majestic eagles and swiftest hawks could soon be no more, according to research published by the National Academy of Sciences in the US. Up to thirty per cent of the planet’s 557 species of raptors “are at risk of extinction,” say researchers from the National Autonomous University in Mexico, a country home to over 90 different kinds of raptor, the fourth-highest number after Indonesia, Colombia and Ecuador. According to the team, the past three decades have seen “many species” experience “severe population declines” due to “habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, human–wildlife conflicts, and global climate alterations.” While raptors such as falcons have been kept for hunting and underpinned family prestige by appearing on heraldry, others have been “persecuted,” the authors said, due to “predation of game species and livestock.”

Plastic rubbish causing land and freshwater migratory animals to suffer – dpa international

Sunset over the Mekong River running past Luang Prabang in Laos (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Asia’s land and freshwater species are “among the most vulnerable” to plastic contamination, according to a new report that the United Nations said is the first to look into how migratory animals are affected by the pollution. The UN’s Secretariat for the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) looked at the plight of animals living around the Mekong and Ganges river basins, from where around 200,000 tons of plastic rubbish flow into the Indian and Pacific Oceans each year. The CMS found that freshwater mammals such as river dolphins and dugongs are “particularly at risk” from drowning after getting tangled in rubbish such as discarded fishing gear or after swallowing plastic. Birds and smaller mammals along the two rivers have been found tangled in kite strings and fishing nets.