Founder of Psious predicts VR will play a major role in addressing the mental health crisis caused by the pandemic

Xavier Palomer_foto_Angela Silva_2 min min
Xavier Palomer

The last year has been busy for Xavier Palomer, the founder of Spanish virtual reality mental health startup Psious. The platform, which is a tool for mental health professionals to place their patients in a variety of different situations to try treatments such as exposure therapy or cognitive restructuring, doubled in the number of patients from 2019 to 2020. In all, 20,000 people have been treated using Psious’s platform.

And while the COVID-19 pandemic has strained many healthcare systems, it has shown the need for Psious’s tech and demonstrated the use case, too. Telehealth – where people are treated remotely from their medical professionals – has long been tomorrow’s technology. The promise has long been acknowledged, but the reality has always been that face-to-face meetings were preferred. The pandemic has challenged that notion.

“The adoption rate and interest from both healthcare professionals and patients is growing,” Palomer said. “If people are suffering, they want to use VR.” The normalization of technology in health treatment has been one beneficiary of the long stretches spent at home. “If you do something for a week, you’ll forget it,” Palomer said. “If you do it for a year or more, you get used to it. We’ve normalized this remote use.”

It’s not before time, either. While the pandemic has helped improve uptake of telehealth solutions, time spent away from loved ones, and away from physicians and psychiatrists is generating an enormous backlog of cases that Psious and Palomer hope to be able to help with.

“We’ve been locked down and isolated, with social distancing and a lot of things that make us anxious,” Palomer said. “We’re way more alone now. I used to go every day to the office; I can’t remember when I was last in the office. I don’t interact with my co-workers. When I interact with someone it’s often through a virtual connection. We don’t just talk anymore.”

Palomer thinks the increase in mental health issues is excacerbated by social distancing restrictions, increasingly negative news coverage, and general economic uncertainty for many people. “It’s like the worst mix ever,” Palomer said. “Being alone so you can’t exchange concerns or share problems. A lot of new stuff like face masks – inputs telling you something is wrong – and then bad news in everything you see or watch. It’s very easy to understand that at some point that will blow our minds.”

A mental health crisis on the horizon

Healthcare experts are already seeing the first wave of mental health issues starting to break on the horizon. “Most of us will be able to deal with it and get through it very easily, but a huge part of us won’t go through it very easily, which leads us to a growth in the number of mental health issues like anxiety and depression,” Palomer said. More than just sheer numbers, Palomer thinks physicians are also likely to see the severity of cases increase when the pandemic begins to subside. People will have lost family members; they’ll have spent a year or more locked indoors; they’ll have spent most of it worrying about what the future holds; and they may not have jobs to return to.

Palomer spoke to the head of psychiatry treatment at one of Spain’s largest hospitals. There, the department chief reported a 60% increase in caseload between January 2020 and January 2021. “For a hospital of that size, having that kind of growth in 12 months is just mindblowing,” Palomer said.

He’s concerned that we’re unsuited for what’s about to happen. “Are the systems ready, meaning healthcare providers, public and private systems? Are we ready to answer this demand?” he asks. “The answer is no. We’ll need to find, in the startup language, scalable solutions, and for me one of the best candidates is technology. Virtual reality has a very good clinical background and good validation. The scalability is there. We believe a solution like ours is needed more than ever before.”

Palomer believes Psious is a complement to, rather than a replacement for, face-to-face mental health treatment. But he thinks it’s better suited than most kinds of treatment, citing the way his back pain – the result of caring for three children and a life spent sitting at a computer – is being treated mostly through phone- and app-based physical therapy.

In 12 months’ time Palomer expects to see an even more meaningful increase in patient numbers being treated using Psious’s virtual reality systems. “We want to keep this pace in 2021,” he said. The mental health of us all may depend on it.

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Police in Spain have seized the first ‘narco sub’ built in Europe

Spain narco sub
A semi-submersible vessel designed to transport up to two tons of drugs, known as a “narco sub,” seized by Spain’s National Police in February 2020.

  • On March 12, Spanish police announced the seizure of a 9-meter semi-submersible vessel designed to transport up to 2 tons of drugs.
  • It was the first known narco-submarine to have been built in Spain or in Europe and indicates that knowledge needed for building the vessels is possibly being exported.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Authorities in Europe – already overwhelmed by a flood of cocaine arriving in cargo ships – now must face another smuggling method that has bedeviled law enforcement in the Americas: the “narco-submarine.”

On March 12, Spain’s National Police announced the seizure of a 9-meter semi-submersible vessel designed to transport up to two tons of drugs. The submarine was still in the process of being assembled when it was discovered in a warehouse in the country’s coastal province of Málaga.

It was the first known narco-submarine to have been constructed in Spain, according to police. Europol officials later confirmed that it was also the first seized sub have been built anywhere in Europe, saying that vessels intercepted in the past had been manufactured in Latin America.

The seizure came as part of an anti-drug operation carried out by Europol, with help from authorities in Spain, the Netherlands, Colombia, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The trafficking group – which operated out of Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region and was composed of Spanish, Colombian and Dominican nationals – moved cocaine, hashish and marijuana across Europe. Between April 2020 and February 2021, a string of operations helped break up the network, resulting in 52 arrests and the seizure of over three tons of cocaine.

InSight Crime analysis

Spain narco sub cocaine drug smuggling
The Spanish civil guard tows a sunken submarine in northwest Spain, November 26, 2019. Authorities said it was the first time a sub was found to be used in drug trafficking in Spain.

The discovery of the first narco-submarine manufactured in Spain indicates that knowledge needed for building the vessels is possibly being exported.

Drug submarines have traditionally sailed up the Pacific from Colombia to the United States. The vessels first appeared in the late 1990s but really took off about a decade later, with improved designs and construction. Difficult to detect and able to carry large cocaine loads, the submarines continue to be a favored trafficking method.

During the first eight months of last year, 27 semi-submersible vessels were seized, Colombian Adm. Hernando Mattos reported. Fourteen were detected in Colombian waters, and another 13 in international waters.

Traffickers based in Europe, meanwhile, have principally relied on using shipping containers and human smugglers, known as drug mules, to distribute cocaine across the continent.

In 2019, however, the first submarine to cross the Atlantic was intercepted off the coast of Spain. And now the first narco-sub building site has been found in that country.

While the vessel was likely to be used to move drugs around Europe, rather than to make a long-haul trip, it is possible that South American traffickers have been sharing their technical expertise with counterparts in Europe.

At an online seminar earlier this month, InSight Crime co-director Jeremy McDermott said that the technology and manufacturing know-how needed to construct drug submarines are being exported by criminal groups.

As drug seizures targeting shipping containers have risen, narco-submarines could become more attractive to traffickers, despite their high construction costs.

If that is the case, European authorities should prepare for anti-submarine operations such as those seen in the United States, where dramatic videos of guardsmen jumping on speeding vessels are not uncommon.

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Spain’s Santander’s 4th-quarter profit plunges 90% as the bank sets aside higher provisions to weather the pandemic

A woman walks past a Banco Santander branch in downtown Rio de Janeiro August 19, 2014.   REUTERS/Pilar Olivares/File Photo
  • Santander’s fourth-quarter profit plunged 90% to 277 million euros ($333.5 million) on Wednesday. 
  • It posted a record annual loss of 8.77 billion euros ($10.5 billion) after setting aside higher loan-loss reserves.
  • The bank still intends to pay the maximum cash dividend allowed in accordance with the ECB.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Spanish lender Santander posted a sharp drop in fourth-quarter profit Wednesday on higher restructuring costs and provisions to weather the impact of the pandemic.

The bank’s quarterly profit fell 90% to 277 million euros ($333.5 million) compared to the same period a year ago, missing the $411 million euros ($494.7 million) estimate of analysts polled by Reuters. However, estimates varied between 102 million euros to 616 million euros.

The bank posted its first ever annual loss of 8.77 billion euros ($10.5 billion) after setting aside one-off charges worth 12.6 billion euros, taking hits on job losses and branch closures. 

Read More: Vanda Research’s new retail-investor tracker nailed silver and AMC as likely targets for a Reddit-driven short-squeeze. These are the 4 stocks it says could be the next GameStop.

Here are the key numbers:

  • EPS: €0.008 versus €0.069 estimated
  • Quarterly profit: €277 million versus €411 million
  • Full year net loss: €8.77 billion versus estimated loss of €8.5 billion 

Net interest income rose to 8.02 billion euros ($9.6 billion), beating estimates, and the bank said it expects a rebound in profitability in 2021. The Latin American and North American divisions were the key performance drivers for overall strength, offsetting weakness in Spain and the UK.

Based on the European Central Bank’s recommendation on December 15, Santander said it would pay shareholders a cash dividend of 0.0275 euros ($0.033) per share.

Santander’s stock rose 2.7% in early European trading, as investors looked past the bank’s losses.

Read More: JPMorgan’s market-moving quant guru lays out an under-the-radar risk that could spring up during the pandemic recovery and snowball into a full-blown crisis across the western world

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Photos show vaccines arriving at hospitals across Europe, after regulators finally approved the Pfizer shot

Franck Huet, head of the hospital pharmacy division of the AP-HP (Paris Hospitals), speaks to the press in front of boxes of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines at their arrival in the AP-HP central pharmacy on the outskirts of Paris on December 26, 2020, before being transported to hospitals in Sevran and Dijon. - France's first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine were delivered early on December 26, 2020, to the Paris hospital system's central pharmacy outside the capital, an AFP journalist saw. A refrigerated truck brought the roughly 19,500 doses from the Pfizer factory in Puurs, northeast Belgium, to Paris, the capital's APHP hospital authority said, with pharmacy chief Franck Huet calling it a "historic" moment in the pandemic. (Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / POOL / AFP) (Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Franck Huet, head of the hospital pharmacy division of Paris Hospitals, seen with boxes of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines in Paris on December 26, 202.

  • Saturday marked the day that the first vaccines for the coronavirus were rolled out across Europe.
  • The European Medicines Agency approved a vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday, joining the US and UK in doing so.
  • The EMA has taken much longer to approve the vaccine, and the European Commission and EU governments had pressured the EMA to work faster, Reuters reported.
  • Countries have been allocated a maximum 10,000 doses each as part of the first shipment.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Europe has begun to receive its first doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

On Monday, the European Medicines Agency approved the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, joining the US and UK in doing so, after an extended delay. 

Doses of the vaccine were manufactured in Belgium and were shipped across the European Union on Friday night.

Out of the first batch, the EU’s 27 member states are by and large limited to 10,000 doses each, The Associated Press reported.

“It’s here, the good news at Christmas,” Jens Spahn, the German Health Minister, said Saturday.

“At this moment, trucks are underway across Europe, across Germany and its regions, to deliver the first vaccine.”

“This vaccine is the decisive key to end this pandemic,” he said.

Here’s what the moment looked like across Europe.

 

 

Hungary

Hungarian carry boxes from the first shipment of Pfizer-BioNTec vaccines against the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) at the South-Pest Central Hospital in Budapest on December 26, 2020. - Hungary has started vaccinating healthcare workers against the coronavirus on December 26. The vaccine, manufactured in Puurs, Belgium, the first in Europe to be approved, is transferred from the hospital, the main vaccination centre, to other domestic vaccination centres. The first shipment contained 9750 doses of vaccine, which allows about 4875 people to be vaccinated. (Photo by Szilard KOSZTICSAK / various sources / AFP) (Photo by SZILARD KOSZTICSAK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Hungarian military personnel carry boxes of the Pfizer vaccine at the South-Pest Central Hospital in Budapest on December 26, 2020..

Italy

ROME, ITALY - DECEMBER 26: Italian Carabinieri escort the van with the first 9750 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the "Istituto Lazzaro Spallanzani" hospital, on December 26, 2020 in Rome, Italy. The European Medicines Agency, the authority that evaluates medical products for the European Union, approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 21, with the European Union's first vaccinations occurring this weekend. (Photo by Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)
Italian police escort a van carrying doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to the Istituto Lazzaro Spallanzani hospital on December 26, 2020 in Rome.

Germany

dpatop - 26 December 2020, Bavaria, Erlangen: Joachim Herrmann (M, CSU), Minister of the Interior of Bavaria, and Melanie Huml (r, CSU), Minister of Health of Bavaria, stand next to boxes containing the first doses of Corona vaccine for Bavaria. Photo: Daniel Karmann/dpa - ATTENTION: Address has been pixelated for legal reasons (Photo by Daniel Karmann/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Joachim Herrmann, Minister of the Interior of Bavaria, (C) seen with newly arrived Pfizer vaccines on December 26, 2020.

Belgium

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - DECEMBER 26: The Covid-19 vaccination campaign starts with the arrival of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines at the University Hospital on December 26, 2020 in Brussels, Belgium. Over the next days the -70° Celsius frozen mRNA vaccines will be thawed here and delivered to residential care centers all over the country where they will be administered to residents. (Photo by Nicolas Maeterlinck - Pool#OM/Getty Images)
Shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines arrive at University Hospital, Brussels, Belgium, on December 26, 2020.

France

Franck Huet, head of the hospital pharmacy division of the AP-HP (Paris Hospitals), speaks to the press in front of boxes of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines at their arrival in the AP-HP central pharmacy on the outskirts of Paris on December 26, 2020, before being transported to hospitals in Sevran and Dijon. - France's first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine were delivered early on December 26, 2020, to the Paris hospital system's central pharmacy outside the capital, an AFP journalist saw. A refrigerated truck brought the roughly 19,500 doses from the Pfizer factory in Puurs, northeast Belgium, to Paris, the capital's APHP hospital authority said, with pharmacy chief Franck Huet calling it a "historic" moment in the pandemic. (Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / POOL / AFP) (Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Franck Huet, head of the hospital pharmacy division of Paris Hospitals, seen with boxes of the Pfizer vaccines in Paris on December 26, 202.

Spain

GUADALAJARA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 26: The first doses of the vaccine against COVID-19, developed by the Pfizer company, are prepared for distribution, on December 26, 2020 in Guadalajara, Spain. Spain will begin to administer the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech on December 27. The Strategy of Vaccination against Covid in Spain will prioritise nursing homes residents and personnel, elderly and disabled people, and front-line health personnel. Over next twelve weeks Spain will receive 4,591,275 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. With 1.84 million cases recorded since the start of the pandemic, Spain has reported almost 50,000 covid-19 deaths. (Photo by José María Cuadrado - Pool /Getty Images)
The first doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrive on on December 26, 2020 in Guadalajara, Spain.

Austria

Vienna's Mayor Michael Ludwig presents a vaccine on the occasion of the arrival of the first coronavirus (Covid-19) vaccination doses, next to (LtoR) Governor of Lower Austria Johanna Mikl-Leitner, Herba Chemosan CEO Andreas Windischbauer, Austrian Defence Minister Klaudia Tanner and Pfizer Austria CEO Robin Rumler at the head office of pharmaceutical products wholesaler Herba Chemosan Apotheker AG in Vienna on December 26, 2020. (Photo by HANS PUNZ / APA / AFP) / Austria OUT (Photo by HANS PUNZ/APA/AFP via Getty Images)
A photo showing Austrian government officials holding the first doses of the vaccine in Vienna on December 26, 2020.

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