Ireland’s GDP up 3.4 per cent in 2020 but other measures show decline – dpa international

Sign outside business park in Castlebar, Ireland. IDA Ireland is the country's main foreign investment agency (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by an estimated 3.4 per cent last year, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), an expansion driven by foreign business and exports but coming as domestic output shrank. “Multinational sector growth was 18.2 per cent in 2020 while non-MNE [multinational enterprise]-dominated sectors declined by 9.5 per cent,” the CSO said on Friday. Ireland reported a record 160.8 billion euros (198 billion dollars) in goods exports last year, but businesses geared towards the small domestic market “experienced significantly lower levels of economic activity,” according to the CSO’s Jennifer Banim, with hotels, restaurants and construction hit hard as personal spending fell by 9 per cent. US multinationals in sectors that have enjoyed surging global demand during the pandemic, including pharmaceuticals and big tech, have European headquarters in Ireland – drawn by low taxes and EU membership. Amazon and Microsoft were among the American corporate giants to announce expansions in Ireland last year. According to Finance Minister Pascal Donohoe, “the pharma and ICT sectors recorded extraordinary export growth, driven by blockbuster immunological drugs, Covid related products, and the shift to home-working.”

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.”

Plant-based antiviral said to be ‘highly effective’ against Covid-19 – dpa international

Vitamin D has been touted as beneficial in curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — The little-known drug thapsigargin has proven “highly effective” against Covid-19, according to a University of Nottingham research team, which said the findings are “hugely significant.” The research, published on Wednesday in the journal Viruses, found that the plant-derived antiviral “triggers a highly effective broad-spectrum host-centred antiviral innate immune response against three major types of human respiratory viruses,” including the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19. Though “more testing is clearly needed,” according to research team leader Professor Kin-Chow Chang, “current findings strongly indicate that thapsigargin and its derivatives are promising antiviral treatments against Covid-19 and influenza virus.” Several treatments for virus-induced disease have been deployed since the first wave of the pandemic, including the steroid dexamethasone and an antibody cocktail developed by the company Regeneron, which was used on former US president Donald Trump when he was hospitalized in October.

Huge Covid-related death toll reported in Irish nursing homes – dpa international

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DUBLIN — Almost half of Ireland’s coronavirus-related fatalities have been in nursing homes, the parliamentary health committee heard on Tuesday. Health Department official Kathleen MacLellan told members of the Dáil, or parliament, that “1,543 people have lost their lives to Covid-19 in nursing homes, 369 of these in the past month.” By Tuesday morning Ireland’s Department of Health had reported 3,317 “probable and possible” Covid-related deaths, one-third of which were recorded in January. Covid-19 is the respiratory disease sometimes caused by the novel coronavirus. Of the almost 200,000 cases of the novel coronavirus reported since the first positive test almost one year ago, more than half were recorded last month, when Ireland was for a time recording the most cases per million of any country in Europe.

Despite concerns raised elsewhere, Ireland shows highest approval for EU’s pandemic response – dpa international

Street in Castlebar in Ireland, the week after the end of the country's second lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN  – Over 70 per cent of Irish people back the European Union’s handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic and  vaccination roll-out, the highest rating of any of the bloc’s 27 member states, according to a new EU survey. The European Commission office in Ireland said on Wednesday that the survey, which was carried out last month by Eurobarometer, a part of the Commission, showed “strong approval in Ireland for the way the EU has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic.” Seventy-two per cent of the Irish surveyed said they were either “very satisfied” or “fairly satisfied” with “the way the EU has responded to the Covid-19.” The average across the EU’s 450 million people was 44 per cent, with Czechs the least happy with the EU’s response. In Germany and France, the two most powerful member states, satisfaction with the EU’s response reached 45 per cent and 36 per cent respectively.

Ireland’s lockdowns drive spike in unemployment and savings – dpa international

A car park in a shopping area in the town of Castlebar in the west of Ireland, shortly after the early December end of the country's second lockdown (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Unemployment in Ireland stayed above 20 per cent in December, official statistics released on Wednesday show, as the country continues to reel from the economic impact of coronavirus-related restrictions. According to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the December rate, adjusted to include those receiving pandemic-related unemployment payments, was 20.4 per cent, a slight improvement on November’s 21 per cent. The CSO’s Catalina Gonzalez said “the Covid-19 crisis” is having “a significant impact on the labour market.” Around 7 per cent of “all persons” would be classed as jobless if pandemic-related layoffs, some of which could prove temporary, were omitted, according to the CSO. Irish revenue officials said on Wednesday that some of the hundreds of thousands of pandemic-related recipients will face tax bills for the payments, one day after the Department of Finance projected a 19-billion-euros budget deficit for 2020. In April, during Ireland’s first lockdown, the pandemic-adjusted unemployment rate shot up to a record 28.2 per cent. January unemployment numbers will likely increase after Ireland announced another national lockdown shortly before Christmas, with people told to remain within 5 kilometers of their homes and many businesses forced to close for a third time since the pandemic started. Ireland’s second lockdown ran for six weeks until early December.

Can a pandemic kill a curse? Old rivals meet again in Ireland’s national final – dpa international

Roadside building in Manulla, Co. Mayo, painted in the colours worn by the county's Gaelic football team. Taken in evening fog on December 7 2020, the day after the team qualified for a 5th All-Ireland football final in 9 years (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — “Any tickets?” “Anyone buying or selling?” Any other year, such would be the refrain in the streets near Dublin’s 82,000-capacity Croke Park throughout the morning of Gaelic Football’s All-Ireland final. But instead of the usual August or September, this year’s delayed and truncated competition will finish the week before Christmas, with those tens of thousands of supporters told watch from home. Restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic mean that come 5pm on Saturday, the vast arena will echo only to the collisions of the 30 players and the yelling of substitutes and coaches. “It’s a pity there won’t be a crowd to see [the final],” said Maurice Quinlivan, part of the Tipperary team thrashed by Mayo in the last four, while previewing the match on Irish radio. Even watching in a bar will be difficult, as only premises that serve food can operate under pandemic-related rules. Around 3,500 of Ireland’s pubs have been forced to close since March for all but two weeks. “We miss the fun, the craic,” said John Maughan, a former Mayo player and manager. “It’s not the same.”

Ireland’s ‘first Covid-free pub’ gets back to pouring pints – dpa international

Pints of Guinness served on June 29 2020 as Ireland allows some pubs to reopen after almost 4 months closure due to coronavirus (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — A bar in the west of Ireland is reopening on Thursday evening as the country’s “first Covid free pub,” with drinkers being tested for the novel coronavirus before entry.cAccording to Eileen’s Bar, a pub in the village of Aughamore, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from capital Dublin, customers must first wait at “a designated area” where they are “tested for Covid by a trained tester.” Announcing the reopening in a Tuesday Facebook post, pub owner Donal Byrne said only regular patrons will be permitted entry and then only after testing negative – but with the promise that they can “enjoy a drink in the testing area” while waiting for the result.

Estimate suggests health workers 7 times more likely to get severe Covid-19 than ‘non-essential’ workers – dpa international

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

DUBLIN — Health care workers in Britain face seven times the risk of contracting severe Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, compared to those in most other jobs. That is according to research published on Tuesday in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine and based on data from lockdowns imposed across Britain during the pandemic’s first European wave from roughly March to May. According to the journal, “occupational exposure” to the virus “is of great concern among essential worker groups, particularly health-care workers,” with defects in or and shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) adding to their vulnerability.