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Drop in blood donations may mean supplies will soon need to be imported

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A drop in blood donations since Christmas may mean supplies will soon need to be imported into the State.

This is just one of the issues the pandemic has raised for the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS). Its national donor services manager Stephen Cousins said the Covid-19 pandemic has been “very challenging” .

The IBTS has said while current supplies are sufficient there has been a drop in donations in recent weeks. Mr Cousins said unless figures improve over the coming weeks it may be faced with having to import blood from the UK again

Over 400 units of blood were imported into Ireland on the week of Christmas in response to a shortage in supply. It marked the second time in 2021 that the IBTS imported blood from the UK’s NHS Blood and Transplant.

“Before Christmas the problem was that you could see week on week the hospitals were taking that bit more than we were able to collect and the supplies were dropping each week. No matter what we did we couldn’t catch up, we couldn’t get ahead of the hospital demand,” Mr Cousins said.

“Supplies are reasonably okay at the moment. However, we are seeing them beginning to drop again since Christmas. Unless collection figures are really good over the next weeks we could find ourselves short again in a few weeks’ time.”

Booking system

However, Mr Cousins said that the new appointment booking system introduced during the pandemic had proved popular with donors and staff.

“With the appointment system only a certain amount of donors are allowed into the clinic at any one time. We’re getting through the donations much quicker and you’re generally in and out within the hour, which includes all the interview process, registration and the wait afterwards,” he said.

“Donors have found that really positive and the staff as well – it takes away some of the stress of before when large numbers were coming in.”

He added that one of the areas where the organisation was particularly struggling was securing younger donors.

“We used to have a lot of college clinics prior to Covid, and that’s where we got an awful lot of new donors…if you don’t get people in when they’re young, it’s much harder to get them when they’re in their 30s and become regular donors,” Mr Cousins said.

“There’s no doubt going into the future there’ll be a knock-on effect on that so we’ve got to find a new way of getting new donors into the system.”

Student

Ruth Noble, originally from Co Wicklow, was among those who was donating blood at the IBTS’s offices on D’Olier Street in Dublin on Tuesday morning.

“I would have donated when I was a student through the years, and then I lived in England for a year and up North for years. I donated there but then when I came back South I couldn’t donate. I’ve been donating since they allowed us back again, which is great,” she said.

“My mum donated blood, my dad wasn’t able to, and we would have gone with her and you got a packet of crisps and biscuits, and it was a big social occasion. It’s just a good thing to do, and it doesn’t cost anything. It’s life-changing for people trying to get blood.

“I really like when they text you to say your blood has been given at such and such a hospital, it makes it very real.”

Also donating blood was Chris MacDonald, who said he gives blood “every few months when I can”.

“I’m from Scotland so I was previously excluded from giving blood until they changed the rules,” he said.

“I used to do it back home when I was 18. My mam always gave blood so it was just always kind of ingrained in me. The main thing is to try and build it into your routine and go every three months.”

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Plan to cut hospital waiting lists as Covid eases being finalised by HSE

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The Health Service Executive is finalising a multi-annual plan to cut hospital waiting lists, as Covid-19 pressures ease.

Chief executive Paul Reid said the plan will build on previous work done within the Slaintecare process and be ready “within weeks”.

The lifting of most restrictions earlier this month had given a great lift to health staff and the situation in hospitals and other services was now much better, Mr Reid told a media briefing on Thursday.

There were 711 patients with Covid-19 in hospital on Thursday, including 74 in ICU.

Some 53 per cent of patients with the virus were there because of Covid, while 47 per cent had been admitted for a different illness but were subsequently diagnosed with Covid, he said.

While this group is asymptomatic, the patients are also infectious, Mr Reid pointed out, and so require infection control measures.

About 4,800 HSE staff are off work due to Covid-19 infection or being a close contact, down 3,000 on two weeks ago.

Chief operating officer Anne O’Connor said hospitals are very busy, with attendances up 41 per cent last week on the same week last year, and 14 per cent on two years ago.

The use of surge capacity has increased and there were 571 delayed transfers of care last week.

Mr Reid enumerated the “learnings” made by the HSE over the period of the pandemic, which can now be built on for the future of the health service. There is greater integration between different services in acute public hospitals, the community and among GPs, pharmacies and private hospitals, he said.

In addition, the key role of public health teams came to the fore during the pandemic. Much had also been learned through the agility demonstrated by the health service during the pandemic, and there is now greater clarity on the role of the centre within the HSE as well as greater access for GPs to diagnostics.

Mr Reid said his priorities for the future were to build capability within the pandemic workforce and to prioritise waiting lists.

The multi-annual plan to improve access to care and reduce waiting lists will go to Government and the HSE board shortly, he said.

Other priorities include the further enhancement of community health networks, the consolidation of a single health service that includes the private sector as waiting lists are being addressed, and improved cybersecurity.

More than 200,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine have expired as demand dropped and many people were unable to receive them due to recent infection, the briefing heard.

Asked whether he thought the pandemic was at an end, Mr Reid said no-one in healthcare was saying it was over. Yet the need for people to get back to normality was recognised, and there was never a more appropriate time for this than now.

Covid-19 might yet force a “recalibration” in the future but for now there was every reason to celebrate the lifting of restrictions.

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When Gabriel García Márquez was investigated over his links to communism | USA

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The first book that Gabriel García Márquez gifted to Fidel Castro was Dracula. It was the mid-1970s and the Cuban leader, engaged in the war in Angola, had admitted to his friend that he barely had time to read. Like a kind of literary pusher, the author continued to provide Castro with bestsellers, easy reads to provide a little rest from the revolution. In exchange, Castro became a tough editor of García Márquez’s early manuscripts. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, inspired by a real event, he had the author change even the caliber of the weapons in the novel.

The friendship had begun earlier, the fruit of a dual fascination – of the journalist García Márquez for the trappings of power and Castro’s for the great intellectuals – but it was always steeped in literature, to the extent that García Márquez signed over the copyright to Chronicle of a Death Foretold to the Cuban government, according to a document produced by the Mexican intelligence service and dated March 17, 1982. The informant quoted in the files concluded that “Gabriel García Márquez, as well as being pro-Cuban and pro-Soviet, is an agent of propaganda in the service of the Intelligence Directorate of that country.”

The Nobel Prize-winning writer’s familiarity with Cuba and the rest of Latin America’s leftist governments and guerrillas seems to have been what most preoccupied the Federal Security Directorate (DFS), Mexico’s political spying service during the monolithic regime of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which held power in the country for over seven decades from 1929 to 2000. The dossier on García Márquez runs from the late 1960s, shortly after he took up residence in Mexico, to 1985, when the agency was dissolved.

EL PAÍS has had access to over 100 declassified files via a formal transparency request lodged with the Mexican General Archive of the Nation. The dossier contains details of how García Márquez was shadowed at public events and private meetings, of photographs taken at his door when he received guests and an exhaustive record of his trips to Cuba from 1975 onward, when the author was drawn more deeply into the bosom of Castroism after a period of estrangement.

A document that shows the copyright for 'Chronicle of a Death Foretold' being ceded to the Cuban government.
A document that shows the copyright for ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’ being ceded to the Cuban government.

García Márquez and Cuba

With no passport and no luggage, García Márquez arrived in Havana for the first time just days after the triumph of the revolution, in January 1959. Invited by Castro as a correspondent for Prensa Latina, the official Cuban state news agency recently co-founded by García Márquez himself, the then-journalist spent six months on the island. After the initial idyll, Communist Party control of the agency and Castro’s definitive jump into the arms of Moscow led to a cooling of relations. That parenthesis coincided with the author’s residence in Barcelona, alongside other leading figures of the Latin American literary boom who were disenchanted with the Cuban dream, such as Mario Vargas Llosa.

During his European years, García Márquez was shaken by another world event: the 1973 military coup against Salvador Allende in Chile. “It was a turning point and served to confirm a period of political radicalization that once again brought him back to Cuba and to militant journalism. He even went so far as to say he would write no more literature until [dictator Augusto] Pinochet had fallen,” says Jaime Abello, a personal friend of the author and director of the Gabo Foundation. At that time, García Márquez had already written One Hundred Years of Solitude and his popularity was rising. However, in the midst of his militant turn, in 1975 he published a glowing report on Castro’s Cuba in the Colombian magazine Alternativas, which he himself founded as a tool for political agitation.

This was the period when García Márquez featured most heavily in the archives of the Mexican Federal Security Directorate. In addition to monitoring his visits to Havana, the files record García Márquez’s support for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and his mediation, under the condition of anonymity, to get Mexican television to broadcast an interview with four military leaders of El Salvador’s FMLN guerrilla movement. There are also records of his meetings with Régis Debray, a French revolutionary and comrade-in-arms of Che Guevara who went on to become an advisor to former French president François Mitterrand.

In the view of Mexican researcher Jacinto Rodríguez, who is writing a book on the DFS’ spying activities against intellectuals during that time, García Márquez’s file is evidence that he was under “a soft tailing, we could say a normal one. He was always regarded as a foreigner who could not involve himself in national issues and who furthermore always exercised great caution.” Rodríguez gives the examples of the Mexican poet Octavio Paz, whose income and debts were monitored, and the Argentinean-French author Julio Cortázar, whose private correspondence was intercepted, as cases that were treated more thoroughly by the DFS. Money and privacy were two of the spy service’s favored weapons for pressure, coercion and punishment.

Declassified documents from the Mexican DFS.
Declassified documents from the Mexican DFS.

The silent repression of the PRI

García Márquez’s most politically radical years coincided with the most brutal era of repression in Mexico. From the 1970s, a criminal alliance between the army and the police gave rise to the murderous and systematic persecution of guerrillas and any other dissidents. It was an offensive embedded as state policy for iron-fisted PRI governments up to at least the end of the 1980s.

This era is still surrounded by impunity and oblivion, highlighting the sophisticated contradictions of the PRI regime: while it opened its arms to political refugees fleeing the dictatorships in Chile and Argentina, at home, it quietly liquidated any social opposition. García Márquez’s declassified files make no mention of any criticism of these dark activities in Mexico, but experts have not ruled out that the material made available could be incomplete and that there may be more that remains, for the moment, wrapped in secrecy. “To what extent was he directly involved in matters that directly interested or affected Mexico? It is still a gray area in his biography,” says Abello.

García Márquez arrived in Mexico in 1961 after leaving the Prensa Latina correspondent’s office in New York. Disenchanted with political journalism, his objective was to try his luck in the world of cinema, another of his passions. The first DFS reports were not filed until 1968, the year of social protests and the Tlatelolco massacre in which over 200 unarmed students were killed by the army (although the figures were never precise).

In December of that tumultuous year, the DFS dossier recorded the creation of the Habeas Foundation, a personal project for García Márquez. It was an organization designed to defend human rights, above all in the case of political prisoners. The DFS informant summed up the foundation’s objectives: “To protect and support, financially and legally, people with a Marxist-Leninist ideology who, because of their participation in guerrilla or terrorist organizations, are shielded under the concept of political persecution.”

The Habeas Foundation took on dictatorships of various kinds, from Argentina to Chile and Panama, and even democracies such as his native Colombia, itself mired in a guerrilla war. The future Nobel winner threw himself into the foundation during its early years. “It’s what I do the most, I think even more than I write,” he said. The foundation faced criticism over the supposed soft handling of denunciations against the Cuban regime or the 1968 repression in Mexico. Octavio Paz’s entourage, which had temporarily severed ties with the PRI, accused García Márquez derisively of having swapped “magical realism for socialist realism.”

Jacinto Rodríguez also notes the extreme prudence exercised by García Márquez with regard to Mexican politics. “They were not so much concerned about him, who was seen as being on the right side, as about the doors that could be opened by keeping a close eye on someone who was so well-connected, with so many contacts.” The majority of people who visited García Márquez at his Mexico home are blacked out in the files, but among them are the secretary general of the Chilean Communist Party and the political counselor at the Cuban Embassy.

A selection of the documents to which EL PAÍS has had access.
A selection of the documents to which EL PAÍS has had access.

The shadow of the CIA

Another pattern that shows up in the files with blacked-out portions corresponding to García Márquez’s contacts is the repeated mention of the United States: “The American authorities are interested in this person…” The Mexican DFS was founded the same year as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 1947, and the long working relationship between both has been noted often, laying bare another paradox of the PRI regime, which vented the anti-US rhetoric of the era while at the same time bowing to Washington’s political police.

Rodríguez acknowledges that “the work of the DFS tends to be interpreted as a bridge with other agencies, but the Mexican service had its own interests very much in mind.” In the case of organizations like Habeas, for example, the DFS carried out “preventive control of the extent of its activities to anticipate possible interference in Mexico.” The Mexican Secretariat for Home Affairs, Rodríguez adds, had a registry of over 200 international human rights organizations.

The DFS dossier also made note of García Márquez’s Nobel Prize, awarded on October 21, 1981. A few days later, the writer received the Order of the Aztec Eagle from the Mexican government. During his acceptance speech, García Márquez spoke of his “pride and gratitude” and underlined, speaking directly to “Mr President,” that “this distinction from your government also honors all those exiles who have taken refuge in Mexico.”

The “Mr President” in question was José López Portillo, who while receiving exiles escaping from Latin American dictatorships was also spying on García Márquez and overseeing the Dirty War in his own country.

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Way too early for housing starts to engender feelgood factor

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Analysis: Strong indicators for construction tempered by affordability, supply chain and targets

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