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Coronavirus cases drop again, vaccination total reaches 3.2 million

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A total of 6,757 new coronavirus cases were registered with the public health institute RIVM in the 24 hours to Monday morning. Monday’s total is down 1,497 on Sunday’s reports and below the weekly average.

Nevertheless, the average number of cases over the past seven days is up 4% on the previous week. The health ministry now estimates 3.2 million doses of vaccine have been used since the Dutch campaign started in January.

On Monday the first shipment of the single dose Janssen vaccine arrived at the central storage facility in Oss.

Patient coordination chief Ernst Kuipers told reporters on Monday it is crucial to speed up the vaccination rate. ‘We should think very carefully before recommending some vaccines not be used,’ Kuipers said, referring to the government’s much criticised decision to stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine for the under 60s.

The number of hospital patients has also gone up in the past 24 hours, and has now reached 2,517. Of them, 794 are being treated in an intensive care ward.

(DutchNews)

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Ministers ‘consider coronavirus vaccine rethink’ after AstraZeneca chaos

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The government will announce if there is to be a change in the vaccination strategy at Tuesday’s press conference, following widespread criticism of the approach to the AstraZeneca vaccine, broadcaster NOS said on Monday evening.

Last week health minister Hugo de Jonge said the Netherlands would stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine on the under 60s because of the risk of developing rare blood clots.

But this decision has been slammed by immunologists, hospital chiefs and family doctors – and contravenes the formal advice issued by the European Medicines Agency. Ernst Kuipers, head of the patient monitoring network LNAZ, said on Monday the government’s decision was ‘incomprehensible’.

Doctors too argue that the under 60s should be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to take the risk.

The national health council said last week that the vaccine should not be given to the under 60s but appeared to back pedal on Monday, saying that the under 60s should be able to choose.

‘As far as we are concerned that can be done, but it is up to the minister to decide,’ a spokesman told NOS, clearing the way for De Jonge to announce a rethink. Health ministry officials have said they do not consider the idea to be a good one.

‘It would not be sensible and there are alternatives,’ a spokesman said. Germany and Italy have given the under-60s the choice.

Delays

The health council has also suggested that the government can consider increasing the length of time between the two jabs of the Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccine. This would allow more people to be protected more quickly and reduce hospital admissions, the health council said.

The first shipment of one-dose Janssen vaccines arrived in the Netherlands on Monday and is destined for front line health service staff. So far, the Netherlands has carried out 3.2 million vaccinations, officials said on Tuesday.

De Jonge had pledged everyone over the age of 18 who wanted a jab would have had at least once dose by July, but this target now seems unlikely.

Officials have already said that there will be no relaxation of the coronavirus rules announced on Tuesday evening, but that universities and colleges will be able to resume limited face to face teaching from April 26.

(DutchNews)

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Hospitals face delaying heart and cancer ops as coronavirus cases rise

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Several hospitals in the Netherlands are being forced to delay heart and cancer surgery because of the shortage of staff, as more beds are taken up by coronavirus patients, the Volkskrant reported on Sunday.

The national acute care association said on Friday that it wanted to scale up the number of IC beds by 100 to 1,550. This, hospital chiefs say, will have an impact on the number of staff available for regular care.

The paper bases its claim on a ring round of hospitals and IC chiefs. Some 800 people are currently being treated for coronavirus in intensive care wards, the highest total since the first wave.

Until now, the impact on regular hospital services had been limited to delays in operations to treat issues which are not life threatening, such as knee and hip ops, the Volkskrant said.

However, national acute care chief Diederik Gommers said that now some open-heart surgery and cancer treatments are being delayed. ‘These are operations you cannot delay for more than six weeks,’ he said.

‘We had said we did not want to reduce services, but we are now at the point where we cannot stick to that.’

Sick leave

The reason for the situation is not the shortage of beds or equipment but the lack of staff, Gommers said. Absentee rates are as high as 10% in some hospitals. The high absenteeism rates are due to coronavirus infections as well as mental and physical exhaustion, Gommers said.

Despite the pressure on hospitals, Gommers said he supported experiments using fast tests and events, ‘as long as they do not lead to an increase in infections’.

‘People should not think everything is going well,’ he told the paper. ‘Within hospital walls, we’ve never had it so tough.’

(DutchNews)

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Cafe terraces won’t reopen on April 21, as new infections rise again

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The cabinet has decided not to relax the coronavirus measures by April 21 as rumours had suggested, a spokesman told reporters on Sunday.

Ministers met health experts from Outbreak Management Team on Sunday afternoon to discuss the latest situation. Cabinet sources had suggested that café terraces could be reopened from April 21 and that the curfew could be abolished from that date.

However, ministers now say there are too many people in hospital and the number of infections is still too high to relax the rules. The new date, if the infection rate falls sufficiently, has been put at April 28.

On Sunday, the public health institute RIVM reported 8,288 new positive coronavirus tests, the highest figure in two weeks. The total is well above the average over the past week, which has now increased to 6,964, just 2% down on the previous seven-day period.

Health minister Hugo de Jonge had already warned people not to get their hopes up about a relaxation of the rules. De Jonge and prime minister Mark Rutte will hold a press conference on Tuesday at 7pm to outline the latest situation.

Events

Despite the increase in coronavirus cases, indoor events, performances and congresses can be held safely as long as a number of safety measures are taken, according to the organisers of several trial events in the Netherlands.

The experiments, the Fieldlab organisers say, show that seated indoor events with a ‘calm public’ can take place without sticking to the 1.5 metre rule if the regular audience is halved and everyone can show a negative coronavirus test before being admitted.

The results are based on two events in Utrecht in February. Six other events have been organized since then, including a small festival and football match, but those results have not yet been published.

In total, 16 people who attended the festivals in Biddinghuizen have since developed coronavirus but it is unclear where they picked up the disease. In total 3,000 people attended those two events.

Amusement parks

In addition, this weekend a string of other government-backed experiments started to allow amusement parks, museums and castles to open to limited numbers of people who can prove they have a negative coronavirus test.

In total, some 450 locations will be allowed to host members of the public in the coming weeks – all who must have a negative coronavirus from an approved testing centre.

(DutchNews)

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Organized confusion the at the people’s expense

SINT MAARTEN (COMMENTARY – By Cecil Nicholas) - Dear editor, In the midst of the high level of confusion around the play on words like “trajectory”, the constant repositioning of this governing coalition with regards to COHO, the petition to the United Nations and continued liquidity support, one thing remains glaringly constant: The everyday plight and hopelessness felt by the average citizens of this country.

The obvious lack of strategic planning with regards to the petition to the U.N. and the seemingly unprepared demeanor for responses of State Secretary Knops, hit this coalition like a deer caught in the headlights of an eighteen wheeler container truck. We have yet to see any formal or formidable response or strategy moving forward, other than the Prime Minister refusing to sign on to the country package until liquidity support is reinstated.

The debris of the collision is a direct reflection of the emotional state of the country. People are divided on the petition because decolonization was not properly explained, State Secretary Knops is offended by the language in the petition, while Senator Jeroen Recourt (Pvda) in Netherlands sees the fiasco as a “choke or swallow approach.”

At this point a strategy should have been put in place to address the divide among the people of this country so that there is a clear understanding of what the petition to the U.N. process entails, what decolonization if achieved means for this country and its people, the time line of the process, and more importantly how the will the people survive this exercise financially. The latter question is of the utmost importance because it has a direct correlation to the viability and sustainability of our economy. No SSRP means less spending power, which can lead to layoffs if not closures of businesses, which equals added pressure on the social welfare system.  

It is astonishing to me that the Coharis Law Firm has not been instructed by the President of Parliament as he has been so charged, to dispatch a letter to State secretary Knops demanding the immediate reinstatement of liquidity support, especially since the U.N. petition was the avenue chosen to challenge aspects of the country package. Keeping in mind that negotiating options were limited to none existent through normal avenues because government had already unconditionally accepted help in writing early last year, delivered on behalf of the Prime minister by our minister of plenipotentiary in The Hague.

The coalition has been alluding that they whole heartedly believe in their position, whichever of the many they have taken thus far, with regards to the contents of the petition to the U.N. COHO and liquidity support. So based on that position alone, a letter should have already been dispatched.

State Secretary Knops has clearly demonstrated his disgust with the unclear positions of Prime Minister Jacobs and MP Roland Brison, the leaders of the NA/UP coalition, by pulling liquidity support and further laying the snail’s pace at which projects from the world bank money are being executed squarely on their laps.

The lack of strategic decisions thus far makes you wonder whether or not the NA / UP coalition stands behind the contents of their petition. The people to date don’t even know if their Prime Minister supports the petition and its content, or not. Was the petition submitted on behalf of the people of this country because their rights are being trampled on, or was this merely a strategy to gain leverage with regards to liquidity support and the conditions attached to it, after giving away negotiating privileges from the inception of talks?

The Coharis law firm is on retainer as they should be for a case of this magnitude. They should be advising on a way forward based on the consistent and continued negative reactions of State Secretary Knops to the petition. Why has the coalition not informed the population on a concrete way forward? The silence is defining and it highlights the lack of strategic planning on the part of the leaders of this governing coalition.

Their two options are very clear: 1) retract the petition and receive liquidity support, or 2) stay the course. Movement on either front has yet to be clearly stated, are we to believe that at the peoples expense egos are the order of the day. Or are individual MP’s falling from the ranks of the hierarchy on their yet to be announced strategy moving forward.

True leadership stands strong in the face of adversity, when a principle stance is taken on behalf of your people and country, it must be well thought out weighing both the pros and cons and the people you have sworn to represent must at all times have a proper understanding of the journey your course of actions puts them on. This is not a socialist state the last time I checked.

Challenges of authority and autonomy such as the petition to the U.N. on behalf of this country have to be explained properly to the people in preparation for whatever challenges may come from such a bold stance. The country should never be put in a position to be ridiculed or laughed at based on indecisions after the fact. We are proud and resilient people by nature and we deserve to be represented in a manner that reflects that, anything less is unacceptable and inexcusable.

This government remains mute when it comes to discussing their position, plans or vision if they have any. They prefer to kep the people guessing and hoping for solution that thus far have not come. Their silence is beyond disrespectful to the people

Cecil Nicholas

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Removal of Vessels from Oyster Pond Lagoon

SINT MAARTEN (GREAT BAY, (DCOMM) – The Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment, and Infrastructure (Ministry of VROMI), as the legally assigned custodian of the Oyster Pond Lagoon, wishes to inform of the Government’s intention to remove the shipwrecked vessels located in the above-mentioned area.  

Pursuant to Article 9 of the National ordinance removal ships and wrecks (AB 2015, no.9), the owners of the remaining shipwrecks located in the Oyster Pond Lagoon are hereby informed that there remains an opportunity to remove their vessel themselves.

In accordance with Article 9 sub 1, a period of 48 hours will be given starting at the date of today’s publication, April 9th, 2021, to the owners of the remaining vessels to remove their vessels in an environmentally friendly way.

After this period, all owners forfeit their legal rights to their vessels and the Minister of VROMI will initiate a procurement procedure to have all listed remaining shipwrecks removed.

Vessel owners are requested to contact the Inspection Department of Maritime Affairs of the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications (TEATT - +1-721-542-2507 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) and discuss your Plan of Approach.

These remaining shipwrecks have been listed in a so-called Vessel list, that can be perused on the Government of Sint Maarten website or after an appointment has been made at the Department of Maritime Affairs.

Each shipwreck has been numbered and its location has been GPS tagged. Photos of each shipwreck can be viewed by clicking on the number associated with the shipwreck.

Owners that have had their shipwrecks removed in the meantime are requested to also contact the Department of Maritime Affairs and provide details of the removal.

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Rare blood clots may be a side effect of AstraZeneca vaccine, EMA says

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – There may be a link between a rare form of thrombosis and the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, but the advantages of the vaccine outweigh the disadvantages, the Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency said on Wednesday afternoon.

Unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should now be listed as very rare side effects of Vaxzevria, as the AstraZeneca vaccine is now known, the EMA said. The EMA said it had come to this conclusion after looking at ‘all currently available evidence, including the advice from an ad hoc expert group.’

In total, the EMA experts looked at 86 cases across Europe, of which 18 were fatal. Some 34 million people in Europe have so far been vaccinated with the AstraZeneca product.

‘The benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks for people who receive it. The vaccine is effective at preventing Covid-19 and reducing hospitalisations and deaths,’ the EMA said.

At the same time, the agency said it is reminding healthcare professionals and people receiving the vaccine to remain aware of the possibility of very rare cases of blood clots combined with low levels of blood platelets occurring within two weeks of vaccination.

‘So far, most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 years of age within two weeks of vaccination. Based on the currently available evidence, specific risk factors have not been confirmed,’ the statement said.

Stoppage

The Netherlands is one of a number of countries which stopped using the vaccine for a second time last week and the health ministry has not yet said what should happen now.

Health minister Hugo de Jonge told reporters on Wednesday afternoon that the national health council will publish its recommendations on Thursday morning, after speaking to thrombosis experts.

So far, some 400,000 people have been given the vaccine in the Netherlands and there have been five reports of this apparent side effect. All victims were female, and one woman died.

Experts

Thrombosis experts said at the weekend the government’s decision to again halt the use of the vaccine was incomprehensible and accused ministers of failing to consult them.

‘All my colleagues are baffled,’ thrombosis expert Saskia Middeldorp told broadcaster NOS. ‘It is as if the people who decide this don’t realise the implications for our vaccination programme.’

DutchNews is aware of several women who say they will refuse to have the AstraZeneca vaccine because of the apparent risks.

(DutchNews)

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Ministers are working on plans to reopen cafe terraces from April 21

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The cabinet is working on plans to reopen café and restaurant terraces from April 21 and to allow shops to open more fully, broadcasters NOS and RTL said on Wednesday, quoting sources in The Hague.

The curfew, introduced in January, could also be scrapped from that date, NOS said. Any relaxation of the rules depends on coronavirus infection rates, which have been dropping in recent days.

NOS says the measures were discussed by key members of the cabinet on Tuesday and were also raised in the regional safety board talks earlier in the week. A number of city mayors have publicly called on the government to open cafe terraces in a bid to improve crowd control as the Dutch head outside to enjoy the summer.

Other rule relaxations on the horizon include allowing universities and colleges to resume more normal teaching, and to expand the options for secondary schools and after school clubs.

The number of visitors to private homes many also be increased from one to two. The plans are now being looked at by government health experts in the Outbreak Management Team, NOS said, and the OMT will report back to the cabinet on Sunday.

The proposals form part of a five- or six-point schedule to fully reopen the Netherlands by the summer, RTL said. Prime minister Mark Rutte and Health minister Hugo de Jonge are due to give a press conference next Tuesday to outline the latest state of play.

(DutchNews)

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Open letter to SXM KARAKTER, MYKONOS and other entertainment hot spots on our island: SHAPE UP, OR SHUT DOWN!

SINT MAARTEN (COMMENTARY – By Michael Ferrier) - Day & Night life in destinations where tourism is the largest contributor to GDP, is only a PART of what makes up a nice place for tourists to visit. However, in a Pandemic, while you are allowed to be open for business, you must be able to control your crowd, or risk getting shut down and after repeated offenses, even losing your license to operate.

St. Maarten’s economy has since decades not been as fragile as it is today and as per April 5, 2021 our population is far from reaching “herd-immunity through vaccination”. If you and/or your patrons insist on being irresponsible in your public behavior, you should appreciate that those of us presently without a job, or on reduced workweeks, or losing money every day we open up our businesses, are losing our patience with your recklessness and your “we-don’t-give-a-damn”attitude .....Guidelines are to be followed.

By failing to do so, you and your patrons are sending a message to the rest of the community that not only you couldn’t care less about us, you also do not respect the rule of law. And just in case you haven’t noticed: PERSONS 40 YEARS AND YOUNGER ARE DYING OF COVID19.

And then GOVERNMENT: it takes two to tango. If you issue rules and guidelines, but fail to enforce them, you are encouraging citizens and businesses to ignore authority! WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO SHOW SOME TEETH?????

FREEDOM IS NOT FREE!

Michael J. Ferrier

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MP Emmanuel: Ernst & Young report further condemns airport CEO, board. Says Holding Board must finish what it started

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - A media report calling for an independent forensic audit to be conducted at the Princess Juliana International Airport based on financial conclusions drawn by the Curacao based firm Ernst & Young, if true not only re-affirmed what many have said for years, but it also should be the proverbial nail in the coffin of current CEO Brian Mingo.

Independent Member of Parliament (MP) Christophe Emmanuel is of the opinion that the confidential report, commissioned by PJIA and reportedly submitted in 2019 to Mingo, does not absolve Mingo of anything, even if it focuses on years prior to his tenure. In fact, he stressed, it further condemns him. The report was leaked recently to at least one online media outlet and circulated on social media over the weekend. “The people of St. Maarten and the employees of the airport can no longer tolerate him in that position and no report will save him,” the MP said.

“His neck is on the chopping block so this report surfaces in an attempt to deflect from his poor management. If accurate, all it shows is that he willfully hid vital information and sank the airport even further into debt with shady operational and financial decisions, rewarding consultants with exorbitant salaries and perks and putting PJIA within reach of total control of Schiphol Airport. All of this while knowing, based on the report he had, that the airport was already in a precarious position,” Emmanuel said

He said revelations in the financial baseline report are not a total shock to anyone since the airport has been a den of secrets for years. “To know something isn’t quite right and do nothing to correct the situation and in fact make it worse, makes you look even worse and your actions even more inexcusable. Mingo has already shown utter disrespect to the Parliament of St. Maarten by telling Parliament he has no time to meet with us. For me at least that was the final insult for his indictment and the Holding Board of PJIA now has to finish what it set out to do with Mingo since last year,” the MP said.

He stressed that the Holding Board also must rid the airport of its current Supervisory Board who has allowed and empowered Mingo to run PJIA into the ground and near complete bankruptcy. “We all know that the board is the power behind Mingo and they are just as guilty. They have to be dismissed at the same time,” the MP said.

He also questioned how the Supervisory Board could have an alleged disbarred attorney as a member and if this isn’t against airport and corporate screening directives. The MP wants the Holding Board to determine if the legal representative on the Supervisory Board was actually disbarred a few years ago and then re-admitted somehow due to the law firm she was associated with. “We are told that this person basically runs the airport and has influence over the CEO. If there are legal issues in their background, this should be known,” the MP said.  

MP Emmanuel also re-iterated that the Government of St. Maarten and the Princess Juliana Airport Operating Company (PJIAH) must avoid renewing the cooperation agreement with Schiphol and the Netherlands without carefully examining the financial detriments of the agreement to PJIA itself. He said based on factual financial figures, the cooperation agreement to date has only added to the financial woes of PJIA due to increased financial pressure it places on PJIAE at a time of crisis and low revenue.

This increased financial pressure, he explained, is derived from high consultant fees and fees that PJIA has to pay to Schiphol Airport for persons that Schiphol appointed to PJIA. He pointed out that consultant fees amount to more than Naf 10 million, the highest they have ever been in the history of PJIA. In fact, the MP said, consultant fees jumped from approximately Naf 4.5 million in 2017, to approximately Naf 7 million in 2018 then to the current amounts of over Naf 10 million in 2019 and 2020.

MP Emmanuel said government and the airport Holding Board must take control and scale down the project which is already over budget by some US $25 million. Even more worrisome, he said, at the rate of spending at PJIA with “ridiculously high consultant fees and poor financial and overall management”, the airport could be out of money by the end of this year if not before.

The MP suggest scaling the project back to focus on the necessities of the terminal, establish the first level/phase of US pre-clearance, take care of employees, replace the CEO, CFO, and Supervisory board and put all other related projects at PJIA on hold.

“The agreement with Schiphol only served to benefit Mingo, Schiphol and Schiphol appointees. The airport has not benefitted in any significant way from this terrible agreement. The government and the Holding Board cannot re-sign such an agreement under the same one sided terms as the first,” MP Emmanuel said.

“So we can talk all day about this report from Ernst & Young, but the fact remains we have a problem now and the current CEO and board doesn’t have a clue about how to guide PJIA into the future. The Holding Board has to show initiative and perhaps mandate SOAB to conduct an audit based on the recommendations of the report. But getting distracted from the overall and dramatic failures of this CEO and this board, will not be allowed or tolerated,” he concluded.

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