Soualiga Newsday Features

Soualiga Newsday Features (2428)

It’s good to talk: lockdown led to more telephone conversations

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – People in the Netherlands spent much more time on the phone during the lockdown this spring, according to research by consumers authority ACM.

In April, May and June, when the first lockdown measures were relaxed, people spent an average of four hours and four minutes making calls via either internet or the fixed telephony network.

But during the same period in 2018 and 2019, they only spent three hours and 18 minutes on the phone, reported. The shift is noteworthy because people had been using their phones less, the ACM, which collated the figures, said.

Over the first six months of the year, the length of time spent on internet calls rose 23%, on fixed-link phone conversations 19%. Mobile data use also rose but less than usual, implying that people who were online used their home Wi-Fi networks instead.

In total, 7.45 million Dutch households have an internet connection, and nine in ten have an internet speed of at least 30 mbps, the ACM said. Some 47% of internet connections are based on cable, 33% are via the telephone line and 20% glass fibre.



Dutch ‘urgently advised’ to wear face masks in shops, cafes and public buildings

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – People in the Netherlands are being ‘urgently advised’ to wear face masks in all buildings open to the public from today, following calls from a majority of MPs for a clear, national ruling.

Speaking during Wednesday’s debate on the government strategy, prime minister Mark Rutte said that recommending the use of masks nationwide was the way to ensure a consistent approach.

Retail organisations and MPs had called on the government to bring in a national measure to head off confusion and enforcement issues after the mayors of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Eindhoven said they recommended masks be worn in all public buildings, including supermarkets and museums.

Rutte also said he did not expect the use of masks to contribute greatly to reduce the spread of coronavirus, which topped 3,000 new cases for the second day in a row on Wednesday.

Officials would now work out the measure in detail, taking the various questions which are already arising into account. It should not, for example, apply to schools he said. Nor, Rutte said, will the measure be compulsory because that would be going too far.


Meanwhile, Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema has announced that 10 theatres and concert halls in the capital will be able to host more than 30 ticket holders, because they are of major international and national importance.

Theater Carré, the Concertgebouw concert hall, the Nationale Opera and Ballet, Paradiso, concert hall Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, the Melkweg, the Kleine Komedie, the DeLaMar Theater, the Meervaart and the Internationaal Theater Amsterdam will all be able to have more than 30 people in the audience during the next three week period.



Civil servants get home working allowance of €363 in new pay deal

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Trade unions have won a €363 annual payment for civil servants who work at home in their latest pay and conditions agreement, according to a report by RTL Nieuws.

It is the first time that a specific payment for home working has been included in a statutory pay deal, and the amount was based on calculations by family spending institute Nibud, RTL said.

Nibud said this summer that people working from home are spending an extra €500 a year on average to cover the costs of not being in the office. Home workers consume more gas, water and electricity by day, as well as extra essentials such as coffee and toilet paper, Nibud said.

The Nibud calculations, which include 70 cents for six cups of coffee or tea, 2.5 cents for toilet paper and €1.20 for gas and electricity, are based on a 40-hour week. Civil servants work a standard 36 hours, hence the lower amount.

The FNV trade union federation said at the time it planned to make a home working payment part of the coming pay round. Coronavirus has led to an increase in people working from home, but four in five workers cannot do so because of the limits of the job, national statistics agency CBS said in August.

Some 20% of people now ‘take work home’, compared with between 10% and 15% of workers in 2019, the agency said. The new civil service pay deal also includes a 0.7% pay rise, on top of the 2% increase earlier this year, a €225 one-off bonus and bike lease scheme.

New fathers and partners will also get five weeks fully paid leave, rather than 70%.



Dutch retail groups won’t enforce face masks, ask for national regulations

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Dutch retail organisations say they will not tell their members to force customers to wear face masks in shops, saying the government should bring in national legal requirements instead.

On Monday, the mayors of the cities of Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Eindhoven said they would strongly recommend people wear masks in shops, cafes, government buildings and museums in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus.

However, face masks cannot be made compulsory because it would be ‘legally difficult’, Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema said, when she outlined the plans. Retail organisations now say the lack of legal backing will make wearing masks impossible to enforce and lead to endless discussions with customers.

‘We are not going to refuse people entry at the door,’ Jan Meerman, director of shopkeepers association InRetail, told BNR radio. ‘One shop might take a tough line, the next one won’t.

Customers won’t understand what is going on and it will lead to discussions, even worse, in shops.’ Instead, shopkeepers would prefer it if masks were made a legal requirement, as in other countries, he said. ‘It works there,’ he said.


Supermarkets too say they will leave the decision up to customers. And while they will recommend staff wear masks, it will be up to them to decide whether or not to do so.

‘If shops make face masks a requirement, it will lead to extra discussion, even aggression, at the door,’ the CBL said in a statement. InRetail and small business association MKB are meeting ministers later this week to discuss the face mask issue.

‘A shopkeeper or a mayor cannot force people to wear a a mask,’ Meerman said. ‘It has to be organised by national government. Now shopkeepers are being saddled with the issue, and that is not the way it should be.’

High street

A number of retail chains, including Hema, Blokker and Intertoys have already said they will not refuse customers who do not wear a mask. The Bijenkorf department store group has said it will require them in the four cities where coronavirus cases have risen most. Health minister Hugo de Jonge has not yet commented on the debate, describing the wearing of face masks in shops as a recommendation.

It is unclear what legal objection to making masks compulsory Halsema was referring to. Masks are already required on public transport.

And this summer, a court in Amsterdam ruled that the city was not contravening citizens’ basic rights by asking them to wear face masks in busy areas of the capital in a month-long experiment.

The court in Amsterdam ruled that it was a relatively minor violation of personal rights, and so was allowed under emergency coronavirus prevention laws.


MPs have also criticised the lack of clarity about the mask’s advice. SP leader Lilian Marijnissen said it is unfair that shopkeepers have been charged with enforcing voluntary regulations.

‘We need a clear strategy with uniform agreements,’ she said. There were also divisions within the government’s Outbreak Management Team about the wisdom of bringing in more regional measures.

‘I think you should have done this [recommended face masks] nationally, not just in the big cities,’ OMT member Andreas Voss told broadcaster NOS. US virologist and president Trump advisor Antony Fauci told current affairs programme Nieuwsuur on Monday night that there is now sufficient information suggesting masks do have an impact on preventing the spread of the virus.

‘Whatever the country, I would seriously recommend people consider wearing masks to prevent the spread,’ he said.



More than 17,000 penalties for breaking Covid rules, 40% have appealed

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – More than 17,000 fines have been issued by the public prosecution service for breaching coronavirus rules in the Netherlands. Figures released on Monday also showed that 337 corona-related cases have been prosecuted through the courts, mostly for threatening behaviour or deliberately coughing or spitting at public officials.

In almost one-third of cases the target was a police officer. The caseload includes three instances of violence against hospital staff and 24 shoplifting incidents in which a suspected thief coughed or spat in the face of staff who tried to stop them.

There were 1,641 cases of people being fined for not wearing face masks on public transport, which have been compulsory since June 1.

Prosecutors are also facing a barrage of appeals, with objections lodged against 6,872 of the 17,200 penalties imposed under the regulations that came into force in mid-March – nearly 40% of the total.

A further 23,300 infringements of regional emergency measures were recorded by community wardens. The decrees were intended as a temporary measure until parliament passes an emergency law, but the cabinet’s first two draft bills were rejected by MPs.



Dutch bring in new rules, forecast 5,000 coronavirus cases a day by next week

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch government expects the number of positive coronavirus cases a day to reach 5,000 by next week, health minister Hugo de Jonge told reporters during Monday evening’s press conference to outline new measures to stem the spread.

The new measures – which will last for an initial three weeks – focus on reducing social contacts, De Jonge said. Most are to be applied nationwide, although they include a recommendation that face masks be worn in shops in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague.

Travel should be restricted as much as possible and working from home should again become the norm. Companies where a cluster is identified can be closed for up to two weeks.

The government is also introducing a 40-person maximum on outdoor events, and a 30-person restriction inside cafes, bars and restaurants. Groups are to be limited to four, while people are advised to have no more than three visitors over the age of 13 to their own homes.


Cafes and restaurants must now close their doors at 9pm and everyone must have gone home by 10pm. Supporters are also being banned at both professional and amateur events for the three-week period.

Sports club canteens will also be shut. Shops are to bring back the door policy to make sure their customers are keeping their distance and in Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam, shops are being advised to require their clients to wear a face mask.

They are also being asked to [re]introduce periods twice a day when people in vulnerable health can shop.


‘I realise this is a bitter bill for companies,’ prime minister Mark Rutte said. ‘But this is about the sum of the whole, not one sector in particular. We have to share the pain.’ There will be economic consequences, he said.

‘And we will be talking to employers about them.’ Talks on the current package of help for companies will be discussed with unions and employers in the coming days, Rutte said.

However, the income check for freelancers who apply for financial support (Tozo), which should be introduced from October 1, will not now go ahead, Rutte said

Three weeks

Given the current rate of infection, officials expect it to be 10 days to two weeks before the impact of the new measures announced on Monday will have an impact, De Jonge said.

By mid-October, officials expect some 400 people to be in intensive care with coronavirus. ‘What we are trying to do is to protect our most vulnerable people, while making sure that the health service can keep up with demand,’ De Jonge said.

‘The people who are sick today were infected a week ago.’ ‘If we don’t manage to reduce the number of infections with these new measures, we are heading closer to [returning to] the intelligent lockdown,’ De Jonge said.



Residents-only rule for coffeeshops proposed in Amsterdam

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Amsterdam city council is gearing up for a new discussion on banning non-residents from its coffeeshops next month, after two new proposals were submitted.

Although a national law says only Dutch residents can buy cannabis from the shops, Amsterdam has never enforced the ruling. When Dutch drug laws were tightened in 2013, there were concerns that the residents-only rule would drive dealing onto the street and create more nuisance, the late Amsterdam mayor Eberhard van der Laan said at the time.

But now thanks to a citizen’s petition and new set of proposals from the opposition VVD party, a foreign visitor ban is back on the table and up for debate again. Increasing numbers of councillors believe that a vote could be a close one, with a new drive to change the type of tourist who chooses to visit.

In recent years, as city ombudsman Arre Zuurmond noted, increasing nuisance from partying tourists has made some parts of central Amsterdam an inadequately policed ‘jungle’.

Earlier this year, mayor Femke Halsema warned that there was not enough space for the normal tourist load, and the city asked for emergency powers to close hotels if necessary.

Meanwhile, the local government has been cracking down on tourist nuisance, banning Airbnb-type rentals in three central areas, regulating tours, and launching a review of prostitution windows and crackdown on criminality around coffeeshops.

A recent briefing from Halsema said the council also wants to ‘reduce the pulling power’ of cannabis on tourists, and a highly critical report last year proposed enforcing the non-resident rule.

Easy drugs

‘Two years ago, when ChristenUnie proposed it, a lot of parties didn’t see the benefit, but I think more and more parties endorse this policy change,’ said Don Ceder, leader of the ChristenUnie in Amsterdam.

‘Specific crowds came back after lockdown, and we are seeing disturbances increasing again even though we don’t have the same number of people. It’s time to look at the international image and I think a residents-only policy for coffeeshops could really help,’ he said.

‘Then it would no longer be the city of easy drugs but a city that attracts different crowds. If a lot of people come who don’t cause problems, there is room for more of a visitor-based economy.’

Robert Overmeer, owner of the Brug 34 bar and chairman of the BIZ Utrechtsestraat local traders’ group, set up the Stop Het Drugstoerisme campaign and petition. He has won enough public votes to spark a discussion in council and will argue that many drug tourists who have returned do little to increase hotel occupancy and support bars and restaurants but create the same levels of nuisance.


‘The real thing is to change the perception of people who come to Amsterdam that it’s a city where they can use drugs and f*** prostitutes,’ he said. ‘We want people who are interested in the city and culture, museums, food – not only people with money.

We don’t have the feeling that the people who come for drugs even enjoy the city: they are stoned all the time.’ He added that even when an estimated 75% of tourist numbers returned in the summer, his colleagues in the hotel industry still had up to 15% occupancy: ‘I see [tourists] sleeping in the cars, pooping and pissing out of the car, leaving all [their rubbish] behind and of course taking drugs back and that will pay for the trip.’

He said that the tourist industry should be prepared to take a loss now in order to make a ‘radical shift’. ‘We should set the new target on the horizon, then it will be clear for everybody that we don’t want these people,’ he said.


A spokesman for Amsterdam’s VVD told that its proposals to put ‘balance’ back into the red-light district aim to change Amsterdam’s reputation as a destination for drugs, sex, alcohol and misbehaviour.

The proposals call for far-reaching rules. ‘The relative quiet as a result of the coronacrisis gives us the unique chance to bring peace back to this historic part of our inner city, but this requires quick, vigorous action,’ the motion states.

Dennis Boutkan, tourism spokesman for Amsterdam’s PvdA, agreed that there needs to be a ‘broader vision’ of the inner city and efforts to attract more business visitors, but said a key issue is how a residents-only policy would be policed.

‘The residents-only rule could contribute to a better image in terms of foreign tourists, so that they don’t just come here to smoke dope, but if street dealing grows, then it is not a good solution,’ he said.

‘The broader question is the capacity of the police, because we have a big problem with a shortage of police and street wardens.


‘However, something has to change with the image of the city abroad, because we want other kinds of tourists. It’s going to be a long struggle.’ Although the mayor of Amsterdam mentioned the residents-only discussion in passing during a council meeting several weeks ago – saying she thought there was ‘no majority’ for it – further clarification was not available.

Two spokespeople for Halsema did not return repeated calls from DutchNews. The Bond van Cannabis Detaillisten, which represents coffeeshop owners, is understood to strongly oppose the proposals and is currently campaigning against street dealing. DutchNews has approached the association for a comment.



New coronavirus measures likely in Amsterdam, The Hague, prime minister says

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – New measures to combat the spread of coronavirus are very likely to be introduced in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague after the weekend, prime minister Mark Rutte said at his weekly press conference on Friday.

The situation in much of the country is worrying, and eight new regions are being added to the list of six areas which are already in special measures, Rutte said. But the situation in the Randstad area is of great concern, he said: ‘We are also in talks with the mayors of the three cities and have asked our Outbreak Management Team to give extra advice on Monday about what is necessary to stop the spread of the virus there.’

He declined to say if this could include a lockdown in the three big cities. It is not just about the measures, Rutte said. ‘It is about our behaviour; it is about keeping to the rules.’

‘What I would say to the people of my city, The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam is to ask what you can do to reduce the risk,’ Rutte said. ‘The impact on healthcare and hospitals is serious and further measures will also have an impact on our economy.’

Positive tests

Figures from the public health institute RIVM show 2,777 more positive tests were registered in the 24 hours to Friday morning, up more than 200 on Thursday. The infection rate per 100,000 is now more than seven – the red flag number – in 21 of the 25 Dutch safety board regions.

The number of coronavirus patients being treated in Dutch intensive care units has doubled in a week to 116, new figures from the national coordination centre show. A week ago there were 58 people in IC units, and two weeks ago just 36.

The figures show a similar development in ordinary hospital wards. There are now 431 coronavirus patients in hospital, compared with 136 two weeks ago. In total, 547 coronavirus patients have been hospitalised in the last two weeks.


Pressure has been mounting on the government to take tough new nationwide action to stop the spread of the virus and Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb has also said he feels the time is right for national, not regional measures.

‘If you see that eight more regions are being described as worrying, and most big cities are in the regions already in special measures, then you have to ask what is left of the regional approach?’ he said.



National measures loom as coronavirus cases rise, experts say

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – National measures will be needed to get the coronavirus outbreak under control again, experts and hospital bosses have told the AD and the Telegraaf.

Now that eight more areas are about to be placed in special measures because they have so many more coronavirus cases, there is no point in having a regional approach, Utrecht University epidemiologist Hans Heesterbeek told the AD.

Coroanvirus is spreading out from the central urban belt ‘like an oil leak’, he said. ‘This is not something you can solve with regional measures. People are travelling from one region to another.

There is too much mingling for regional measures to be effective.’ Bart Berden, director of the Elisabeth-TweeSteden hospital in Tilburg, said that he too considered national measures are the only option, if ministers decide to intervene.

‘What is the point in having regional measures if you see that the regions are becoming more similar in terms of infection rates?,’ he said to the paper.

Last Friday, prime minister Mark Rutte announced that bars and cafes in the six worst affected areas would have to close their doors at midnight and brought in new limits on numbers at organised gatherings.

And on Wednesday it emerged that eight more regional health boards are also set to be included in the tougher approach. The total number of positive tests in the Netherlands has topped 13,400 in the past week.

Ernst Kuipers, head of the national acute care network LCPS, told the Telegraaf that hospitals are now scrambling to keep up with the spread. The number of hospital patients has almost doubled from 245 to 475 in the past week and 104 people are now in intensive care.

‘We had expected this in September, but I am concerned,’ Kuipers said. ‘The number of hospital admissions is rising by more than 10% every day, and that is too much.’


Most coronavirus patients are in hospital in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Leiden, and Leiden’s teaching hospital has already said it will cancel some operations which had been planned.

Several coronavirus patients have also already been moved to other areas to relieve pressure on their local hospitals.The number of IC beds is due to be scaled up to 1,350 by the beginning of October.

Staff shortages are an added problem and many doctors and nurses are still suffering from the stress of the first wave. ‘I think we really need to take a total lockdown into account,’ Theo Immers, chairman of the national burnout prevention centre NCPSB. told the Telegraaf.



Positive tests rise again, and more health boards cut back on contact tracing

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A total of 2,552 new positive coronavirus tests were registered with the public health board RIVM in the 24 hours to Thursday morning, the fourth day in a row that new infections have increased.

The infection rate has risen to 13.6 per 100,000, well into the government’s red zone and in theory a trigger for tougher measures. The ‘reproduction’ figure is 1.33, meaning each coronavirus patient person will infect 1.33 other people on average.

This too is a red zone figure. A further 16 people have died, the highest death toll since the end of May, and 25 more people were admitted to hospital. Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague again accounted for the bulk of the new infections.

Experts are suggesting that national measures will be needed to get the coronavirus outbreak under control again, now that eight more areas are about to be placed in in the ‘worrying’ category.

The total number of positive tests in the Netherlands has topped 15,000 in the past week. Nearly all 25 health boards have now switched to a more limited form of contact tracing – meaning only people considered at risk are phoned by officials trying to trace the source of infections and warn others.

Instead each patient is being asked to phone other contacts and urge them to quarantine for 10 days.


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