Lockdowns cause Irish government spending and debt to soar – dpa international

Shoppers in the west of Ireland loading their cars outside a supermarket. one of the handful of retailers allowed to stay open during Ireland's lockdowns (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Coronavirus-related borrowing and spending caused an 18.4-billion-euro (22.01-billion-dollar) government deficit in Ireland last year, equivalent to around 5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), according to official data published on Wednesday. The Central Statistics Office (CSO) said Dublin borrowed almost 14 billion euros to meet ballooning health and social costs incurred by pandemic restrictions, which have left hundreds of thousands of people out of work and dependent on state support. In 2019, the government reported a surplus of 1.9 billion euros, before a swing into the red of of more than 20 billion last year, even as GDP grew by 3.4 per cent due to surging exports in multinationals-dominated sectors such as pharmaceuticals and information technology.

Irish imports from Britain down over 900 million euros in January – dpa international

Inside an Irish branch of the British Tesco supermarket chain (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s imports from Britain fell by 65 per cent in January after the British departure from the European Union led to more complicated trade with its nearest neighbour. Ireland’s Central Statistics Office (CSO) said on Thursday that imports from Britain fell 906 million euros (1.08 billion dollars) year-on-year to less than half a billion euros. Ireland usually sources around one-fifth of its goods imports from Britain, though the EU and the US account for most of the country’s overall trade. Irish exports to Britain saw a much smaller decline compared to imports of 14 per cent, the CSO said, to make up 7 per cent of the January total. Irish exports to Britain fell by almost 10 per cent in 2020.

Nature conservation disrupted since pandemic started – dpa international

DUBLIN — Nature conservation has been “significantly impacted” by the coronavirus and related restrictions, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said on Thursday, a year to the day since the outbreak was declared a pandemic. While responses to the pandemic “temporarily slowed down human impacts upon nature,” the IUCN said, restrictions such as stay-home lockdowns and widespread travel curbs later led to “conservation work job losses among protected area rangers, reduced anti-poaching patrols and environmental protection rollbacks.” Over the past year, according to the IUCN, “protected and conserved area operations were scaled down or suspended, visitor facilities closed, workplaces shut, many staff withdrawn from duty stations and supply chains disrupted.” Over half Africa’s protected areas “were forced to halt or reduce field patrols and anti-poaching operations as well as conservation education and outreach,” according to IUCN surveys.

Irish human rights commission criticises government’s pandemic restrictions – dpa international

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

DUBLIN — The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) on Thursday accused the government of having “persistently blurred the boundary between legal requirements and public health guidance in its Covid-19 response.” In a report co-authored with academics from Trinity College Dublin, the commission said though “core pandemic measures” were  “generally proportionate and justified in light of the scale of the public health emergency,” parliamentary oversight was “lacking.” The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet), a once-obscure advisory body that has become a household name in the wake of the pandemic, has acted as “de facto decision maker,” the commission reported, leading to the risk that public health advice “captures the whole decision-making process.”

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.”

Ireland reports record-breaking exports even as Brexit hits trade with Britain – dpa international

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

DUBLIN — Ireland’s goods exports were worth an unprecedented 160.8 billion euros (196 billion US dollars) last year, a new record underpinned by surging sales of medical and pharmaceutical products during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Estimates published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed “medical and pharmaceutical products making up 39 per cent of 2020 goods exports, a value increase of 25 per cent on 2019.” Exports to the 26 other member states of the European Union accounted for 40 per cent the 2020 total, the CSO said, an increase of 13 per cent on 2019. Belgium and Germany were Ireland’s two biggest markets in the EU. Exports to Britain, Ireland’s nearest neighbour, fell by 9 per cent during 2020 and made up 8 per cent of the year’s overall amount. After Britain left the EU in early 2020, an increasing proportion of Ireland’s exports to the continent ended up being shipped directly rather than transiting Britain, with ferry companies in some cases doubling cargo sailings from Ireland to France.

Global trade plummeted in 2020 before East Asia drove late-year revival – dpa international

Customers lining up at a mobile phone shop inside a Kuala Lumpur mall on May 4 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Global trade shrank by 9 per cent in 2020 despite a late-year recovery in East Asia, according to estimates published on Wednesday by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The revival as “uneven,” with 8-per-cent fourth quarter growth in global merchandise or goods trade but stagnation in services, UNCTAD said.. While international commerce was “greatly affected” by “economic and social disruptions brought about by Covid-19,” East Asia registered “gains in global market share” after being able to “better weather the challenges of the pandemic,” according to the UN trade body.

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.