Focus (2)

Soualiga Newsday Focus (2743)

Downward trend in positive tests slows, vaccinations near 6 million

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A total of 7,575 confirmed coronavirus cases were reported to public health institute RIVM on Friday. That is 758 more than on Thursday although the general trend is still downward.

The average number of positive tests over the past week is 7,133, which is down 3% on the previous seven-day period. Officials have suggested that the King’s Day festivities on April 27 may be responsible for the slowdown in the decline.

There are, however, indications of improvement in terms of hospital admissions. According to the national patient coordination centre, 2,521 people are currently being treated in hospital, the lowest number in two weeks.

Of them, 797 are in intensive care wards, the first time that figure has dipped below 800 in three weeks. Fewer people are also being admitted to hospital – 1,621 over the past seven days, compared with 1,866 in the week earlier period, or a drop of 13%.

The government’s Outbreak Management Team has advised against any further relaxation of the coronavirus rules until hospital admissions have gone down by 20%.


Almost six million doses of vaccine have now been administered in the Netherlands, according to the government’s coronavirus dashboard. The figure is an estimate, based on the forecast of 102,000 currently being carried out a day.

Some 77% of vaccinations carried out in the Netherlands are now being included in the national vaccination register, according to the RIVM. Two weeks ago, government health experts warned that only around two-thirds of vaccinations were being recorded because of slow reporting by hospitals and healthcare institutes, and by family doctors.

Meanwhile, Utrecht’s regional health board says it is pleased with the results of an experiment to open the Jaarbeurs test centre until midnight.

‘We can do it, and there is demand, so we have a realistic scenario when the bulk vaccine orders come in,’ a spokesman told local broadcaster RTV Utrecht.



Pregnant women should be a vaccination priority: research

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Pregnant women have a higher risk of ending up in intensive care with serious complications as a result of a coronavirus infection, research by the Netherlands Obstetric Surveillance System Nethoss has shown, but they are not prioritised for vaccination.

In total, 9,148 pregnant women had been diagnosed with Covid-19 up to the end of April this year. Of them, more than 400 ended up in hospital, 36 were placed in intensive care and 33 were transferred to the obstetric high care unit, the organisation says.

This means that pregnant women are 2.5 times more likely to end up in intensive care than women who are not pregnant. ‘The results are not surprising,’ Nethoss chairwoman and Utrecht UMC professor Kitty Bloemenkamp told the AD.

‘We know that virus infections can have a greater negative effect on pregnant women. We see the same for flu.’

A number of women who had to be put on ventilators and who were more than 28 weeks pregnant were given a Caesarean section to ease the pressure of the child on the lungs.

This, said Bloemenkamp, is ‘a horrible thing to happen for the woman and her partner. She wakes up a week later without a baby in her body and an early birth may have consequences for the baby as well.’

The new figures probably do not reflect the true risk pregnant women are running, Bloemenkamp told the paper, as women had been ‘extremely careful during the first wave’.


Up until a week ago, healthy pregnant women were advised not to get vaccinated because none of the vaccines had been tested to find out the likely impact. That advice has now been revised, based on data from the United States where over 90,000 pregnant women were vaccinated with Pfizer and Moderna without serious side effects.

However, most pregnant women in their 20s and 30s are only scheduled for vaccination from the end of June. Bloemenkamp said pregnant women should get priority, as is happening in other countries.

‘Our figures show they are a high-risk group so let them go first. We are dealing with two people instead of one, after all,’ she said.


Midwives’ association KNOV told the paper that they have been calling on the health ministry to ‘routinely’ vaccinate healthy pregnant women and prioritise pregnant women over 35, pregnant women with a migration background and those with a weak immune system.

‘But we don’t decide who goes first, that is up to the minister,’ a spokeswoman for the association said. Not all pregnant women are known to their family doctor, a spokesman for the health ministry told the paper.

‘’That makes it difficult to call them in to get vaccinated.’



More pay deals include agreements on working at home:

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Almost a third of the pay and conditions agreements currently in effect have clauses about working from home, compared with just 8% last year, employer’s organisation AWVN has told news website

‘Working from home is clearly at the top of all the lists in pay and conditions negotiations, for both workers and employers,’ spokesman Jannes van der Velde said.

The shift is that of ‘fast evolution’, he said. ‘It is not a revolution, because the phenomenon in itself is not new.’ Many pay deals now include compensation for home working, based on calculations published by family spending institute Nibud last year.

Nibud estimates working from home costs some €2 in electricity, coffee and toilet paper. Trade unions have already made agreements with some employers in the finance and public sectors about home working allowances.

For example, national government civil servants who work at home are now eligible for a €363 annual payment. One issue which still has to be solved is the tax status of compensation for home working, Van der Velde said.



Fashion students demand director quits for failing to tackle ‘unsafe climate’

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Students at the Amfi fashion school in Amsterdam have called for the resignation of the college’s director and senior lecturer for ignoring signals of abuse at the institute.

The union said it has received some 60 accounts to date from both former students and students who are still attending the school about lecturers making comments with sexual and racial overtones, humiliating treatment, and a climate of fear which prevented them from speaking out.

‘Students tell us that they need years of therapy after their time at Amfi,’ Maarten van Dorp, chairman of student organisation ASVA, said in a statement. ‘The culture at the school needs a complete overhaul. That cannot be done by a director and a senior lecturer who have consistently ignored signals of an unsafe environment for students.’

The students and union also want the school to apologise for the ‘toxic culture’ that was allowed to spring up and a proper independent complaints procedure. ‘Students have to be able to make a complaint in safety without fear of repercussions for their results,’ Van Dorp said.

Many of the reactions came in after former Amfi student and occasional lecturer Martijn N. was outed by the Parool and NRC as a sexual predator although it is not clear whether his actions involved students at the school.


The Amfi case is the latest in a series of MeToo related scandals and resignations to hit higher education in the Netherlands. Complaints by two women about a dean at the Erasmus School of Health Policy and Management recently led to his – not immediate – resignation after an investigation by an independent external bureau.

The University of Amsterdam suspended a French lecturer in December last year who was allowed to continue teaching despite complaints about his sexually transgressive behaviour being recognised as early as 2018.

Another lecturer, at the university’s Paper and Book department, was given an official warning about his tendency to touch students inappropriately and for making comments of a sexual nature in 2019.

He is still employed by the university. Christian Democrat MP René Peters has asked caretaker education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven for an investigation into the safety of students in further education.



We must resolutely oppose hatred, Merkel says in Liberation Day address

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – German chancellor Angela Merkel has given this year’s May 5 speech, which traditionally kicks off the Liberation Day celebrations.

Speaking by video link from Berlin, Merkel said she was grateful for the invitation to give the address, which she said, is a ‘special sign of the friendship between the Netherlands and Germany.’

In her speech, Merkel directly addressed survivors of the death camps and spoke of Anne Frank, describing the ‘immeasurable suffering that people had to endure’.

‘Nothing can fill the empty space left by the people who have been murdered,’ she said. ‘Nothing can take away the loss and pain of the survivors… Keeping the memory alive is Germany’s eternal responsibility.’

The theme of freedom, she said, cannot be considered today without looking at the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. ‘In order to overcome this threat and once again enjoy our freedoms without restriction, we can build on a solid foundation: on European solidarity as a result of a unique process of reconciliation and unification,’ she said.

We Germans, she went on, will never forget that the Netherlands reached out to us after World War II to make reconciliation possible. Today too, Europeans are being called on to defend their values, she said.

Recent terrorist attacks ‘remind us that as citizens we must resolutely oppose any form of anti-Semitism and racism and any form of hatred and hostility towards certain groups.’

‘Our two countries work closely together as Europeans and good neighbours and we have conquered crises and achieved successes together,’ she said. ‘But we will never forget that we cannot undo the past.’

Despite the pandemic, the freedom flame was lit in Wageningen as usual and there are ceremonial flames in all 12 Dutch provinces. Online concerts replace the traditional festivals and other events.

People are also being urged to make a special ‘freedom soup‘ based on seasonal vegetables with curry powder and coconut milk, and share it with their neighbours.

In the evening, instead of the floating concert on the Amstel river, there will be a more low-key event in the foyer of the Carré theatre which will be broadcast live on NPO1.



Vaccine passport may be a reality in June, opening doors to travel

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The cabinet will probably have taken a decision about the introduction of some sort of vaccine passport by early June, giving parliament three weeks for debate, health minister Hugo de Jonge has told MPs.

The European Commission has set June 21 as a target date for the introduction of a passport, and then six weeks to organize it. However, this, says De Jonge, is too slow given the Dutch school holidays start in early July.

MPs earlier called on De Jonge not to wait until the summer to put the wheels in motion. The aim of the passport is to allow people to travel to other EU countries and attend events in the Netherlands without a negative coronavirus test.

Both Spain and France have said they plan to let in people who have been vaccinated from June.

Meanwhile, plans to make quarantine compulsory for people returning from high risk countries are now unlikely to come into effect until June as well, the Telegraaf reported.

Figures published on Tuesday showed only around one in five people took the quarantine requirement seriously and seven in 10 still went to the shops. The vaccine passport may also make quarantine unnecessary, the paper said.



Teenagers jailed for the death of a man, 73, in ‘paedophile hunt’

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Five teenagers who attacked a 73-year-old man they had lured to a meeting as part of a ‘paedophile hunt’ have been found guilty of contributing to his death.

The two older boys, aged 17 and 18 at the time, were given one year jail terms, six months suspended. The other three, the youngest of whom was 15, were given suspended sentences and community service.

The sentences were lower than those demanded by the public prosecution department. The teenagers were also ordered to pay the victim’s family damages of €52,500 and €11,000 for his funeral.

The 15-year-old youngster set up the meeting with the victim, a former teacher, via a gay dating site. The man was initially reluctant to meet the boy, saying he was too young. When he did agree to turn up, he was confronted by the group of five teenagers, who beat him up.

He died later in hospital. ‘Taking the law into your own hands is unacceptable,’ the court said in its ruling. ‘These boys played judge and jury, and that is not how our legal system works.’

Several of the youngsters had been involved in other attacks on men they thought were paedophiles, the Telegraaf reported.



The Netherlands remembers its war dead with poetry and personal stories

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands remembered its World War II dead on Tuesday, with commemorations at war memorials nationwide. The day of remembrance culminated in two minutes’ silence on the Dam in central Amsterdam, where king Willem-Alexander and queen Maxima laid a wreath.

Other wreaths were laid for members of the resistance, ordinary citizens who died, soldiers and merchant navy sailors. On Dam Square, where about 100 invited guests attended the ceremony, prize winning spoken word artist Amara van der Elst told of descending from two different cultures, and of ‘the wounds beneath the skin that do not heal’.

Comedian and actor André van Duin spoke about growing up in Rotterdam in the aftermath of the World War II and about attending Remembrance Day commemorations at the Homo Monument close to the Dam.

‘The fact that we have had such a monument since 1987, as the first people in the world, is a symbol of our freedom,’ he said. ‘The freedom that everyone can be themselves. Everyone, without others having anything to say about it.’ ‘I too,’ he said, ‘am responsible for passing that freedom on to the next generation.’



Ground-breaking Shark Research Conducted in St. Maarten Waters

SINT MAARTEN (COLE BAY) - During the week of April 11, 2021, members from the Nature Foundation St. Maarten, the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA), the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF), and Beneath the Waves conducted multiple ‘scientific firsts’ as part of the “Shark Shakedown” project. The research expedition was a part of a wider research project into tiger sharks in the region funded by World Wide Fund for Nature the Netherlands (WWF-NL) through the Biodiversity Funds and the Dutch National Postcode Lottery. The researchers tagged eleven sharks, including for the first time a female pregnant tiger and endangered Caribbean reef shark in the Dutch Caribbean. The data will provide vital information for conservation strategies not only in St. Maarten, but for the wider Caribbean. 

The expedition lasted five days in which three species of sharks were tagged, including tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier)Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezi)and nurse sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum) all ranging from sub-adults to adults. 

Participants received hands-on training with experts from Beneath the Waves in preparation for the upcoming expedition to the Saba Bank in August 2021. The goal of this upcoming expedition is to determine whether the Saba Bank is a breeding area for tiger sharks in the Eastern Caribbean. The high-definition ultrasound technology the team used was created by E. I. Medical Imaging and pioneered by collaborator Dr. James Sulikowski, of Arizona State University. This technology has successfully been used to identify maturity state and the stage of pregnancy in various shark species, a first for shark science in the region.   

The scientists successfully confirmed early pregnancy stage in a large female tiger shark, as well as placed a satellite tag on the shark during the workup process. Using satellite tracking over the next few months, the scientists hope to confirm evidence of Sint Maarten being a breeding location for these globally threatened animals. In another shark tagging ‘first’, Beneath the Waves’ Chief Scientist, Dr. Austin Gallagher, placed the first camera tag on a tiger shark in the Dutch Caribbean. The team successfully recovered the camera package during the expedition, and the animal has already shown promising results regarding shark behavior in the region.  

Both the satellite tag and camera tag have shown that these tiger sharks prefer to travel in the area between St. Maarten and St. Barths; however, these are only the first detections. No assumptions can be made yet regarding the movement of these animals. 

The information gained from this research will provide a better understanding of the importance of both the status of sharks in Sint Maarten’s territorial waters and in the Yarari Sanctuary and the role these ecosystems play in the life-cycle of tiger sharks in the wider Caribbean region. Tiger sharks are currently categorized as Near-Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature while Caribbean reef sharks have very recently been upgraded to Endangered. Sharks play key roles in maintaining the balance within local and regional marine ecosystems and maintaining biodiversity and therefore their protection is crucial.


Dutch border police arrested more people smugglers in 2020

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Dutch border police arrested 124 people smugglers in 2020, a 40% increase on 2019 when 89 were apprehended, figures requested by the Telegraaf have shown.

‘Most traffickers were arrested in the vicinity of the refugee centre at Ter Apel where some were dropping people off on the doorstep,’ spokesman Robert van Kapel told the paper.

Over a third of the arrests took place on the border with Germany. The police did not speculate on why the centre was so popular as a destination, but one reason could be that Ter Apel is becoming better known through social media.

‘No matter how small Ter Apel is you can rest assured that many people in Syria, Iraq and Morocco know where it is. It is the ultimate goal for many, and their first port of call to start asylum procedures,’ border team leader Bert Bruins said.

In the past months activity around the centre increased, Bruins said, and two to three traffickers were being caught each week.

People sell their homes and all their possessions to make the trip, often in very dangerous circumstances, Bruins said. ‘Package deals to the Netherlands are sold on every street corner in Syria in a manner of speaking and can cost up to €20,000 per person.’

Bruins said combating people smuggling is a priority but that it cannot be proven in every case. ‘We carry out spot checks around Ter Apel and the border and stop cars we think are unusual, a car from Münich carrying four men, or a hire car with three girls in it, for example.

We check their papers, people’s reason for being here. You very often know if the story is true or not, but you will have to prove your suspicions to make an arrest.’

In February the force announced it was going to use drones equipped with innovative technology such as infra-red cameras to detect people who could be hiding within vehicles, as well as honing in to search specific areas in detail using the images.


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