Ireland not even halfway through third lockdown, according to taoiseach – dpa international

DUBLIN — Almost two months into Ireland’s third coronavirus lockdown, Prime Minister Micheál Martin said the country “is looking at a continuation of severe restrictions” until the end of April, despite case numbers plummeting since a January peak. Martin made the warning in a late-night Thursday interview with the Irish Mirror newspaper, in which he said extending the lockdown would be “worth it.” Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Féin, Ireland’s main opposition party, slammed Martin’s comments as “flippant.” Peadar Tóibīn, head the small opposition party Aontú, said the government’s proposed extension amounted to “policy failure.”

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.”

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

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.

Irish economy recovers between lockdowns but further losses loom – dpa international

DUBLIN — Ireland’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew 11.1 per cent during the third quarter, according to official estimates published Friday, suggesting the country’s economy saw some temporary respite between two separate lockdown periods. Jennifer Banim of the Central Statistics Office (CSO) said the “easing of Covid-19 related restrictions led to growth across almost all sectors of the economy in quarter 3.” The CSO data show Ireland’s economy rebounding after GDP contracted by around 6 per cent during the second quarter, which coincided with the country’s first coronavirus lockdown. Restaurants and pubs that serve meals reopened on Friday, after the end of a six-week second lockdown. Non-essential retail reopened earlier this week.  Ireland’s daily coronavirus case numbers, which topped the 1,200-mark in October, had dropped to below 200 by Thursday. The second pandemic wave was far less deadly than the first, according to official data released Friday. The average mortality rate in November was eight people per 1,000 confirmed cases, down from a peak of 74 per 1,000 in April, the CSO reported. Hospitalisations were 58 per 1000 cases in November, down from 192 in March.  

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.”

Irish broadcaster questioned by police over virus rule breaches -dpa international

Government reminders about coronavirus-related restrictions are ubiquitous across Ireland (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s public broadcaster RTÉ is facing a police probe after several TV and radio stars were photographed while not observing coronavirus-related distancing during an office party. Director of Human Resources Eimear Cusack said on Monday that RTÉ representatives “met with An Garda Síochána [the official Irish name for the police] today in respect of their inquiry.” The news presenters and talk show hosts involved have apologized, with Miriam O’Callaghan saying on RTÉ radio on Sunday that “I let everyone down, and for that I will be forever sorry.” Moya Doherty, chair of the station’s board, said in a statement there is “an onus” on RTÉ to be “both above reproach and to lead by example.”  The Irish Independent, one of the country’s biggest newspapers, said on Monday that the apologies were “half-hearted lame excuses.”