Lifeline remittances stay steady despite pandemic and recessions – dpa international

DUBLIN — Global remittances fell by 1.6 per cent last year to 540 billion dollars, a less-than-expected decline in what the World Bank labelled “lifeline” cashflows for millions of people. The global total, which amounts to around the same as Belgium’s gross domestic product (GDP), held up far better than other economic indicators, according to a bank report published on Wednesday. The bank earlier estimated a global GDP fall of 4.3 per cent and a 30 per cent drop in foreign investment into low and middle-income countries in 2020.

Democracy undermined by pandemic restrictions, according to Council of Europe – dpa international

Restrictions have seen pubs such as this at the foot of Ireland's best-known pilgrimage mountain Croagh Patrick closed for most of the time since March 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Restrictions imposed to slow the coronavirus pandemic have “compounded” what the Council of Europe describes in a new report as “democratic backsliding” across the continent. According to Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric, even “legitimate actions” by governments to deal with the virus have curtailed liberties “in ways that would be unacceptable in normal times.” “The danger is that our democratic culture will not fully recover,” Pejcinovic Buric warned.  The council’s 47 members, which include some of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, have veered in and out of lockdowns of varying duration and severity since March 2020.

With most sports banned, Ireland’s long lockdown saw walkers step up – dpa international

Sports facilities such as this Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) Centre of Excellence in Co. Mayo in the west of Ireland have been closed for most of the past year due to government restrictions (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland’s recent third pandemic lockdown led to an increase in “recreational walking,” according to Sport Ireland, a government body, with the usual mist-laced winter gales blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean proving no deterrent to a population otherwise told to stay at home for months on end. The report said “overall levels of physical activity have increased on 2019 figures,” with the percentage of Irish adults “walking for recreation” climbing from 65 per cent before the pandemic to 76 per cent during the first quarter of 2021, slightly below the high reported during Ireland’s first lockdown last year. “Running and cycling experienced similar fluxes,” according to Sport Ireland, with the early 2021 step-up in numbers coming “despite a decrease in organised sport participation.” The lockdowns required people to mostly remain within five kilometres of home, another limit that seemingly did not deter walkers.

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.”

Ireland set to end long-running pandemic lockdown next month – dpa international

The parish church in the Irish pilgrimage town of Knock, where Mass has not been celebrated in public since late 2020 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Ireland will end one of Europe’s longest and strictest pandemic lockdowns next month by accelerating a phased relaxation plan to allow restaurants and pubs to reopen sooner than expected and public religious services to resume. Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told broadcaster Newstalk on Thursday that “from the 10th of May there will be changes in restrictions, quite significant ones.”  Services such as hairdressers and “non-essential” retailers are expected to get the green light to reopen, with a ban on and related criminalisation of attending religious services expected to be lifted at the same time. The capacity limit on public transport is to be doubled from the current 25 per cent. Outdoor service at pubs and restaurants could resume in June, according to media reports that a revised reopening plan would be announced on Thursday – accounts Coveney said were “quite accurate.”

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 airport traffic nosedives due to pandemic and related travel rules – dpa international

Ireland West Airport saw no passengers for 3 months of 2020 as travel slowed to a crawl after a pandemic was declared (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Footfall at Ireland’s airports plunged last year, according to official data released on Wednesday, with numbers down almost 80 per cent compared to 2019. The Central Statistics Office (CSO) said almost 8.3 million passengers passed through Irish airports in 2020, down from roughly 38 million the year before. Almost 5 million of the 2020 total passed through the airports in January and February, before numbers plummeted in the wake of the World Health Organization declaring a pandemic in March and governments imposing lockdowns and travel curbs. The fourth quarter of 2020 saw an even bigger fall, with passenger numbers down 90 per cent compared to late 2019. The CSO said the decreases “are associated with the restrictions imposed due to Covid-19.”

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.

Despite optimism about global economy, IMF warns of pandemic poverty rise – dpa international

Would-be shoppers in Castlebar in Ireland during the brief period between the country's 2nd and 3rd lockdowns. Retailers have suffered due to countries veering in and out of lockdown since the start of the pandemic (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — The International Monetary Fund said on Tuesday the world economy could recover faster than expected this year, revising its January projection up by 0.5 percentage points to 6 per cent.The United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies, are likely to grow by 6.4 per cent and 8.4 per cent in 2021, driving the global rebound if pandemic-related economic curbs can be rolled back, the IMF said in a report published on Tuesday. But while “a way out of this health and economic crisis is increasingly visible,” according to the IMF’s Gita Gopinath, “divergent recovery paths” will likely result in increased poverty in so-called emerging markets and low-income countries, which could struggle to recover.

Unemployment stuck at around 25 per cent as Irish lockdown drags economy down – dpa international

Most sports in ireland have been banned as part the current lockdown, leaving pitches such as this in the west of Ireland empty and unused (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Unemployment in Ireland lingered near the 25-per-cent mark in March as a third pandemic lockdown continued to hammer the economy, according to official data released on Wednesday. Though the Central Statistics Office (CSO) said March’s 24.2 per cent unemployment was down slightly on February’s 24.8 per cent, pandemic restrictions continued “to have a significant impact on the labour market,” according to the CSO’s Catalina Gonzales. Many businesses were forced to close for a third time in less than a year after the Irish government imposed a third lockdown in December, less than a month after a second six-week lockdown ended. The government on Tuesday announced it will slowly unwind some of the measures from mid-April, saying people would be permitted “non-essential” journeys within their county of residence, beyond the current 5-kilometre limit.