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Soualiga Newsday Focus (2696)

DUO continues provision of extra online public information for the Caribbean region

SABA/SINT EUSTATIUS - Late last year Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs (DUO; Education Executive Agency) organised an online public information campaign for (former) students in the Caribbean region. The campaign was organised because a physical visit to the islands was not possible due to corona. The online contact options have been so successful that they will be continued in the next few months. The public information campaign will comprise a second webinar for prospective students and actions to prevent repayment difficulties among repayers.

Webinar for prospective students

On the 15th of April, DUO will organise the ‘Studiefinanciering aanvragen vanuit het Caribisch gebied: de praktische zaken’ webinar. This is a follow-up to the ‘Studiefinanciering: hoe werkt het?’ webinar, held November last year. The webinar will provide prospective students insight into all practical matters which they must arrange for their student financing in the Netherlands in the next few months. The webinar can be watched with subtitles in English and Papiamentu. You can register for the webinar via duo.nl/webinar.

Help with payment arrears

DUO will continue to contact repayers actively in case of payment arrears. DUO will inform students who start repaying their debt how they can prevent further difficulties by requesting a financial capacity analysis or the local repayment option.

Repayers who have multiple debts or for whom aforementioned options are not a solution, they will be requested to contact DUO. They can subsequently look into a tailored solution together with a DUO officer.

Personal contact via chat and video calls

Over the past few months DUO has expanded its services for the Caribbean region with chat and video calls. These forms of personal contact with a DUO officer were very well received, which is why they will be continued. Students and former students can chat online at duo.nl/antillen on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Video calls are possible by appointment on Wednesdays and Fridays.

DUO implements laws and regulations for the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, among other things, and implements regulations on the funding of educational institutions, provides student financing and contributions to school costs, collects student debts, and manages the exchange of data linked to personal education numbers. (RCN Caribbean Netherlands)

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Fewer coronavirus vaccine appointments made than forecast, RIVM says

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Fewer people were vaccinated than expected last week, partly because not enough people signed up for a jab, according to public health institute RIVM.

On Monday it emerged that just 280,570 people were vaccinated last week, well below the 416,000 target. ‘There were enough vaccines, but the appointments were not being made quickly enough,’ the RIVM’s vaccine chief Jaap van Delden told reporters.

The exact cause is still being looked into, but Van Delden said part of the reason appears to be that the group currently scheduled for vaccinations is making fewer appointments than expected.

For example, just 36,000 appointments for the AstraZeneca vaccine were made, when there were 100,000 available, he said. The Netherlands resumed using the vaccine last week, after it was pronounced safe by the European Medicines Agency.

Bottlenecks at family doctors and long waits at the appointment call centre could also be having an impact, he said.

Prognosis

Health minister Hugo de Jonge has also acknowledged that the number of vaccinations carried out last week is trailing expectations. ‘The prognosis was too high, the realization too low,’ he said.

He said he hoped that this week, between 400,000 and 500,000 people would be vaccinated. From this week too, mobile teams would visit residential care homes and make sure everyone who has not yet been vaccinated is offered a jab.

Leiden vaccine

Meanwhile, American pharmaceuticals company Johnson & Johnson said it expected to begin deliveries of its Leiden-developed vaccine to Europe on April 19. The one-dose vaccine is the fourth to be cleared for use in the EU.

De Jonge has also asked the Dutch health council to look again at the possibility of delaying the second round of Pfizer vaccinations. The second jab is now given within six weeks and the health council earlier confirmed that position.

However, the rising number of infections and hospitalisations have led De Jonge to ask the council to look at the issue again, so that more people can be given a first vaccination more quickly.

Acute care chief Ernst Kuipers has called for everyone over the age of 50 to be given their first vaccination before the over 70s get their second.

(DutchNews)

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Coronavirus cases increase by 13%, biggest rise in over-70s

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The number of positive coronavirus tests increased by 12.7% in the last week of March, according to the latest weekly update by the public health agency RIVM.

The percentage of positive tests increased for the second week in a row to 8.5%, although the figure is still below the double-digit levels that prevailed from October until mid-February.

Positive tests increased for the seventh week in a row, with 51,866 confirmed cases in the week to March 30. The number is almost back at the level of the first week of January, when just under 54,000 people tested positive.

Infections were higher in all age groups, but with a notable spike in the 70 to 74 group where reported cases went up by 27%. Children aged 5 to 14 and people in their early thirties and early fifties also experienced a higher than average increase.

There was also a 4.2% increase in the number of people being admitted to hospital, which went from 1,513 to 1,578, but intensive care admissions were almost unchanged at 317, compared to 321 a week ago.

Recorded deaths fell by 23.3% from 223 to 171. A total of 550,267 tests were carried out, a 6.3% increase on the previous week, while the proportion of positive tests went up from 8.1% to 8.5%.

The reproductive number R was measured at 1.07 on March 15, a slight decline from the previous week’s figure of 1.11 but still above the critical level of 1. Among the 25 health board regions the number of infections per 100,000 people ranged from 189.8 in Twente to 426.7 in Zuid-Holland-Zuid.

Six of the regions have an infection rate higher than 350 per 100,000, while only Twente is currently below 200. The latest daily figures indicate that the rise in infections is slowing down, with 5,909 new cases recorded, a 6.3% weekly increase. However, the number of people in hospital went up by 68 in the last 24 hours and stands at 2,410, of whom 682 are being treated in intensive care.

(DutchNews)

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The efficiency of renting office space

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - The General Audit Chamber submitted its report entitled “Mini audit: Efficiency of Government’s Office Space Policy to Parliament today. The report describes the analysis of the government’s office space/housing policy; what are the rental expenses and are the funds used efficiently?

Are properties vacant and if so, why? Expenditure related to office space is a material element of the national budget. Analysis of the office space/housing policy and issuing recommendations to strengthen the efficiency of the rental expenditure were impacted due to insufficient information.

The Audit Chamber’s financial analysis is limited to a comparison of the realized expenditure for the rental of office space during the period 2016 to 2020. The Audit Chamber recommends drafting a policy governing office space and housing for the government apparatus.

It was not clear why government chooses to rent in certain instances and whether leasing or rental is more beneficial than owning. In its conclusion, the Audit Chamber recommends that government seek improvement by developing readily available and reliable data in order to determine where savings are possible.

In a reaction to the audit, the ministry of General Affairs reports that it is developing an office space policy and that the recommendations will be adopted. The General Audit Chamber considers this as a positive step and will monitor the progress.

The report is published in both English and Dutch and is available on the website of the General Audit Chamber (www.arsxm.org).

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Little change in personal well-being last year, despite coronavirus, CBS says

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – There was little change in the personal well-being of people in the Netherlands last year, despite the coronavirus pandemic, national statistics agency CBS said on Monday.

In fact, in 2020, 66.2% of adults described their personal well-being as being good, up slightly in 2019, when the figure was 64.7%. People also had more faith in the police and politicians but were slightly less happy about their social lives, the CBS found.

The agency questioned nearly 8,000 people for the research project, which looked at various issues to determine well-being, including personal finances and jobs, health, social relationships, living situation and confidence in society.

Just 2.6% of the people in the survey gave their lives a score of between one and four out of 10, down slightly on 2019. Men were more positive about their personal well-being than women and young adults were more positive than older people.

There were, however, sharp variations depending on educational level, with 55.1% of people with a low level of education describing themselves as content, compared with 76.1% of people with a university or college degree.

Homes

People in general are, however, happier with their financial and living situation – 85% are happy with the neighbourhood they live in and only one in 10 feel unsafe from time to time.

Confidence in the police has risen from 75% to 77.8% and in the legal system by 3.7 percentage points to 77%. There was also a sharp rise in the percentage of people saying they had confidence in politicians.

In 2019, 39.2% said they had confidence in the parliamentary system but that rose to 52.4% last year. On Saturday, the Telegraaf reported that around one in five people are actually happier in themselves thanks to the lockdown.

The figure comes from VU University professor Meike Bartels, who researches genetics and wellbeing, and who has added the impact of coronavirus to her ongoing project to map the nation’s well-being. The reason for the increase, she said, may be down to being out of the rat race for a time, as well as an end to the fear of missing out, she said. The pandemic had simplified many ‘busy, complicated’ lives, Bartels told Horizon, the EU research and innovation magazine, last December.

(DutchNews)

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Coronavirus hospital numbers rise by nearly 100, infections up by 9%

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The number of patients in hospital with coronavirus increased by almost 100 on Monday as cases continued to rise on average.

A total of 2,342 people were being treated for Covid-19 on Monday morning, compared to 2,248 on Sunday. The number of patients in intensive care increased by 20 to 675. Another 6,824 cases were confirmed on Monday, a 9% increase on the figure a week ago. Over the last week cases have increased by 14.5% on average.

The positive test rate was unchanged from Sunday at 8.5%. Another 10 deaths were reported by the public health agency RIVM on Monday, while the seven-day average figure has come down from 29 to 26 in the past week.

The virus is continuing to decline in nursing homes, with 219 locations reporting at least one new infection in the last two weeks, compared to 245 a week ago. A total of 2.38 million vaccine doses have been given so far, while 514,000 injections are planned for the coming week, the RIVM said.

(DutchNews)

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USP: Reactionary, lack of principled leadership a detriment to the people

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - The board of the United St. Maarten Party (US) said on Monday that their sentiment with regards to the confusing manner in which the country is being governed has been echoed and confirmed by State Secretary Knops with decisive action in the aftermath of the advice from the Council of State on the COHO legislation.

The USP board said the people of St. Maarten are now left wondering about the way forward, while the Prime Minister continues to issue strange and confusing statements on the COHO. “The Prime Minister and her faction leader in Parliament MP William Marlin called a press conference to address what they said were inaccuracies being peddled as it relates to COHO. This is after reconfirming (March 17) her agreement to the implementation agenda, setting the stage for more liquidity support to be given at the end of the month. However, the only thing that came out of that press conference was more confusion from the Prime Minister,” the board said.

The board said that according to Knops, NAF 39 million in liquidity support will be withheld from St. Maarten until “parliament clarifies its position on the recently submitted petition to the United Nations and confirms approval for the Caribbean Entity for Reform and development COHO”

The USP board explained that Prime Minister Jacobs said “the country did not agree with the proposal made for COHO in July last year”. Jacobs went on to say “the entity was being introduced as a prerequisite to continue receiving liquidity support” further stating that “the countries did not agree with the manner in which it was done, it was more than a proposal and was a forced consensus that had been accepted as the islands were no longer able to financially sustain themselves.” Prime minister Jacobs then goes on to say “In December 2020, St. Maarten agreed to follow the trajectory towards the realization of COHO and agreed to start working on reforms in the country package.”

The US party board questions how one could in one breath not agree with the proposal made for COHO, and in the next agree to the trajectory for the establishment of COHO without stating such in the letter of acceptance on March 17 2021.

“How could a properly functioning Council of Ministers approve the implementation of the agenda for the country package and not question the Prime Minister on her acceptance of the country package and COHO in her letter of March 17th 2020. The fact that they are two separate issues is obvious, making it even more difficult to understand why the Prime minister would accept both in one letter without any objections,” the USP board said.

The “trajectory” argument was dismissed by the US party board as nonsensical since all laws follow the same trajectory, the COHO law is no different. “The claim that the islands accepted both agreements holds no water since St. Maarten is the only island whose liquidity was put on hold until clarity can be given on its position,” the board said.

The US party board further questions if there was a strategy to be applied beyond following the trajectory of the COHO law, as this would be the perfect time to present it. “The advice from the Council of State is clear, COHO in its current form is unacceptable but once revisions are made, it will be instituted as a body to manage the country package. Everything else that followed was equivalent to grand standing when you have no legs to stand on. The games being played by this coalition are elementary at the expense of the people. State Secretary Knops has placed Parliament’s petition to the United Nations on center stage to further divide the coalition, while the people of this country are left wondering what their plan is moving forward,” the board said.

The US party board said a country cannot transition to self-sustainment without a proper plan and the highly irresponsible way in which the people’s business is being conducted without proper planning leaves it vulnerable to ultimatums.

“The NA/UP coalition now finds itself having to choose between their egos and liquidity support because they have yet to take a principle stance on any decision they have made thus far, on behalf of the people of St. Maarten. Individualistic ideals and a lack of leadership has now fragmented Parliament into those who will side with the petition on principle and those on the side of liquidity support at all cost. All of which could have been avoided if Prime Minister Jacobs had stated in writing in clear words that she had an issue with the way in which the structure of COHO infringed on her ability to govern and represent the people of this country,” the board added.

The US party board said they were awaiting an emergency press briefing as was held last Friday to bring clarity to the misconceptions of State Secretary Knops and his unjustified stop to liquidity support. “Not just a press briefing to point fingers at other MPs and deflect. But as has been the case for the past year communication on the issues that matter most to the people are only discussed when the coalition finds itself with its back against the wall and decisions are made for them,” the board concluded.

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Government Launches Multi-Purpose Shelters Project for Vulnerable Residents

SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - On Friday, March 26, 2021, the Government of Sint Maarten achieved a large milestone for the country as it pertains to disaster preparedness and resilience building. In the presence of the Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) Dr. Carissa Etienne, Head of the European Union Delegation Responsible for Sint Maarten Fernando Ponz Canto and other pertinent stakeholders, the 11th European Development Fund B-Envelop Shelters project under the theme: “building resilience by improving emergency response and disaster preparedness for the people of Sint Maarten”, was launched. During the event, Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs delivered the keynote address. The project will be funded fully by the European Union and will be executed and implemented by the Pan American Health Organization, the Americas arm of the World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO).

In December 2020, the Contribution Agreement was signed between the EU and PAHO, solidifying the project’s actions and their mutual commitment to enhance the island’s resilience. The Ministry of General Affairs (AZ), Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour (VSA) and the Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Infrastructure and Environment (VROMI) are also key stakeholders for this project. The project aims to build two resilient SMART multipurpose shelters in the communities of South Reward and Hope Estate. These multipurpose shelters will not only provide safe lodging for vulnerable residents during times of disaster but will also have a multi-purpose function for the community, outside of the hurricane season. The project will also raise awareness and increase capacities within the communities, on disaster preparedness and response, ensuring that the relevant communities are equipped to safeguard themselves and their families.

During the high-level launch, the Minister of VSA Richard Panneflek spoke about the importance of building a resilient health sector on Sint Maarten; where continued health care is paramount. The Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs Silveria Jacobs expounded further on: “Overall disaster preparedness response in Sint Maarten and the importance of community engagement in this Response.” The session concluded with Prime Minister Jacobs thanking all stakeholders for their continued efforts and urging persons in our communities to prepare a family disaster plan as well as to take an active part in the coming information sessions on disaster preparedness.

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Coronavirus deniers in parliament are a dangerous thing: De Jonge

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Caretaker health minister Hugo de Jonge has told the AD in an interview that he is concerned about the presence of so many viruswappies – or coronavirus deniers – in parliament.

Coming across them on Twitter is one thing but ‘now you hear these noises in parliament and that really worries me,’ De Jonge said, without mentioning the far right Forum voor Democratie by name.

FvD made scrapping the coronavirus measures a key part of their campaign, which won the party eight seats in the new look parliament – with 5% of the votes. Some 73% of FvD voters said the party’s coronavirus stance was the most important issue in deciding to vote for it.

People are fed up with coronavirus and that means they are more vulnerable to alternative theories, De Jonge said. ‘But there is also a group with has gone for a party which denies the seriousness of the virus, calls all the measures into question, and raises doubts about only real way out of the crisis – vaccination.’

(DutchNews)

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Positive coronavirus tests surge to nearly 9,000, more hospitalisations

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The number of positive coronavirus tests reported to public health institute RIVM soared to 8,868 on Saturday, a rise of 1,260 on Friday’s figure.

Last week, the number of positive tests a day averaged 7,239, an increase of 14% on the previous seven-day period. The sharp increase can be partly explained by the increase in testing and the number of tests carried out over the past week has risen by 8.5%.

Nevertheless, the percentage of tests proving positive has risen from 7.7% to 8.4%, showing that the virus continues to spread. The number of coronavirus patients in hospital is also rising slightly.

There are now 2,238 people with the virus in hospital, of whom 643 are in intensive care.

(DutchNews)

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