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Ministers have not yet decided about further relaxing coronavirus rules

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Ministers have not yet reached a decision about whether the coronavirus rules can be relaxed again from May 15, following weekend talks with health experts.

On Sunday, ministers met at the prime minister’s official Catshuis residence but sources told broadcaster NOS and the Telegraaf that more research into the current infection situation is needed before any new measures can be taken.

There will be a new cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, ahead of the evening press conference, during which prime minister Mark Rutte has pledged to give more information about the potential for foreign travel in the summer.

Hospital admissions have gone down by 10% over the past few days, but the Outbreak Management Team said earlier that the decline should be 20% before the rules can be relaxed further.

The next step in the government’s five point plan involves reopening amusement parks, zoos and gyms, and widening café and restaurant opening hours. Last week ministers agreed that the decline in positive cases and hospital admissions was not concrete enough to merit a further reduction.

The current recommendations for foreign travel are also due to expire on May 15 and, according to NOS, travel to areas which have a green or yellow risk level may again be an option.

However, the broadcaster points out, people from the Netherlands may not be welcome without a negative test or vaccination certificate. DutchNews.nl has asked the health ministry if plans are being made to make it easier for family members of non-EU nationals to visit.

‘The minister understands that the travel restrictions can hit people hard, and that is why we are looking to see what more can be done,’ a health ministry spokesman told DutchNews.nl.

‘There are exceptions [to the current rules] for family members, but they do have to meet the standards for entry, such as have a negative coronavirus test and go into quarantine,’ the spokesman said. Over 21,000 people have so far signed a petition calling for change to the current rules, which mean thousands of foreign workers in the Netherlands have not seen their parents for over a year.

Events

Meanwhile, the FieldLab organisation which has been staging ‘coronavirus-free’ events for the past three months says it now has enough data to be able to make recommendations about safely organising congresses and theatre shows.

Programme manager Pieter Lubberts told NOS radio that the 1.5 metre rule can be dropped for type one events, where people sit and are quiet, if people have a negative test before the event and wear a face mask.

Nevertheless, organising an event during a pandemic can never be 100% safe, Lubberts said. It is now up to politicians to decide what to do, he said. ‘In the meantime, we are pressing ahead, because we are doing this for a sector that employs 100,000 people.’

Tests

The number of positive tests is going down, although the percentage of people testing positive has risen from 10.7% to 12.1%. On Sunday, public health institute RIVM reported 6,704 new positive tests but the weekly figure is distorted by computer problems the previous weekend.

Data analyst Marino van Zelst told NOS that fewer people are taking a PCR test because of the rise of self testing. ‘But we can only say things are going in the right direction when the number of positive tests and the percentage of tests proving positive are both going down,’ he said.

The drop in infections is across all age groups apart from those aged 20 to 29. This could be connected to the large crowds who gathered to celebrate Kings Day in the spring sunshine.

‘You always see the first increase in the most mobile group, and that is the 20 to 29-year-olds,’ virologist Amrish Baidjoe said. ‘That is what we saw last summer as well.’

Contact tracing also shows that there was rise in the number of people who became infected at a ‘party’ in the week April 27 to May 4. In absolute terms, however, the figures are low – 401 people compared with 150 in the preceding weeks.

(DutchNews)

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Positive coronavirus tests dip below 6,000, but no change in weekly average

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The number of positive coronavirus tests reported to public health institute RIVM over the past 24 hours has again dipped below 6,000.

In total, 5,910 positive cases were registered overnight, down 768 on Sunday. On average, 7,051 cases a day were reported to the RIVM over the past seven days. The number of people in hospital rose slightly to 2,487, of whom 757 are in an intensive care ward.

The number of IC patients is now down 70 on a week ago. Monday always has fewer positive tests than average because many people avoid having a test at the weekend.

The government’s coronavirus dashboard also suggests nearly 6.5 million doses of vaccine have now been administered. Meanwhile, a group of doctors have set up a website where family doctors can register any extra vaccines that they have left over, and people who want to be vaccinated early can apply to get them.

Prullenbakvaccin (waste bin vaccine) was launched on Monday and so far only a handful of doctors’ practices have signed up. The site’s founders say they took the step because every vaccine which is thrown away is one too many.

(DutchNews)

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About to get busier: Dutch scientists train bees to sniff out coronavirus

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Scientists have harnessed bees’ acute sense of smell to detect coronavirus in a method that could be applied in developing countries lacking the necessary diagnostic tools, researchers at Wageningen University say.

The project, carried out by startup InsectSense and Wageningen Bioveterinary Research (WBVR), involved the conditioning of some 150 bees using the Pavlov method.

Every time the bees were exposed to the virus, they were given sugar water as a reward. Coronavirus causes a metabolic change in the body which releases a certain smell which bees, and dogs, can pick up on because of their highly developed sense of smell.

By repeating the action, the bees associated the sugar water with the presence of the coronavirus smell and stuck out their tongues. Training the bees only takes a few minutes, the scientists found, and it takes the bees just seconds to identify the smell.

The samples for the tests were initially taken from healthy and infected mink, resulting in very few false-negatives and false-positives, the researchers said. Subsequent tests using human samples yielded equally good results.

If the method can be successfully scaled up, bees could be trained to detect coronavirus all over the world, the scientists hope. InsectSense has already designed a prototype machine to train bees and a bisosensor which uses the bees to diagnose the disease.

There is no danger the bees will spread the virus, Professor Wim van der Poel told DutchNews. ‘The bees are not sensitive to the virus and don’t come into direct contact with it during the trials.’

‘BeeSense’, as the diagnostic system has been dubbed, could help developing countries which lack the infrastructure for diagnosis and have no access to state-of-the-art technology.

Wageningen and InsectSense are also working on the so-called LumiNose biochip technology, which uses insect odour receptors to detect the virus. Once perfected non-invasive, precise and cost-effective testing using this technology could be on the horizon, the scientists said.

(DutchNews)

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MPs debate ‘test for entry’ plans amid claims of chaos

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The hospitality industry, museums and cinemas have all said they do not see a future in the government’s plans to open up society by using negative coronavirus tests.

MPs will debate the cabinet’s plans on Thursday afternoon, but the organisations say that requiring people have a negative test to sit at a pavement café or visit an exhibition is a step too far for many.

Pilot events in April also showed that there is widespread reluctance to have a test before an outing.

Some 60,000 of the 200,000 tickets for the ‘test voor toegang’ events went unsold, broadcaster NOS reported at the weekend, and the Efteling cancelled its participation because of the poor turnout. Just 16,000 people bought a museum ticket, but there were 37,000 available.

Allowing museums and sports events to reopen to people with a negative test is a key part of the government’s five step plan to return to normal.

But MPs are concerned at the need for the testing system, given that within a few months most of the population will have been vaccinated. And they are also unhappy with plans to make people pay up to €7.50 per test from July.

Chaos

Meanwhile, the NRC reports that there is ‘chaos’ on the market for official tests now that seven other companies have won concessions from the Stichting Open Nederland foundation which is in charge of the pilots.

Newly set up companies with little experience in healthcare have now been given the job of setting up dozens of test centres all over the country, the paper said. A German company which delivers services to armies and whose director lives in Dubai has won the contract for testing in Utrecht and Flevoland, the paper said.

A supermarket manager will run testing in the Amsterdam region, while in the east of the country a company which provides online healthcare services and a bar owner will be organising the system there.

Challenge

‘It is an enormous challenge but that makes it interesting,’ Jeroen de Jong from Virusspeedcheck told the paper. He worked in advertising and corporate events before jumping into the commercial coronavirus test market last year.

‘People were asking exorbitant amounts of up to €250 per test,’ he said. ‘We offered tests for €59 and within a month that had dropped to €49.’ De Jong will now be responsible for testing in Rotterdam, parts of Zuid-Holland, West Brabant and Zeeland.

His company currently has five test centres but will have to build up at least 10 in the coming weeks for the official ‘test voor toegang’ events.

Dispute

Lead Healthcare, which carried out the testing for the April events, is still embroiled in a dispute with SON over the bill. The FD said last month SON is refusing to pay the €35m bill for setting up and organizing the test centres – based on an agreed fee of €30 per person, excluding the actual test itself.

That fee, charged by sole provider Lead Healthcare, was based on calculations by EY and Deloitte. However, research by purchasing advisory group Procurance has suggested €8.92 per test would be a more reasonable figure, the FD said.

The government has set aside €1.1bn to fund the projects.

(DutchNews)

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SOUTH REWARD HOOPS & BEATS EXPO CONSIDERED A GREAT SUCCESS

SINT MAARTEN (SOUTH REWARD) - The St. Maarten National Basketball Association (SXMNBA) and Faceoff Studioz on April 25th, 2021 decided to collaborate and form Hoops & Beats Expo in which they provide a platform for basketballers and local artists to showcase their talents to their peers and to the rest of St. Maarten, the SXMNBA said in a statement on Thursday.

Hoops & Beats held their first of a series of events in the district of South Reward which was well received by public.

With the blessings and endorsement of The South Reward Community Council, the council and a few residents came out in full force to support this event. It started off with a word of prayer from Ms. Irma Gumbs the president of the South Reward Community Council then a few words from Ms. Aishira Cecilia, followed by a motivational word from Ms. Rhoda Arrindell who hail from South Reward but live in the nearby district of Ebenezer.

Hoops & Beats proceeded immediately with its first under 18 matches. The kids played with heart and soul and many showed interest and persistence in a competitive way. There were many promising talents unveiled. After every quarter there were performances by artist, which a majority of the vocal talent came from the district of South Reward.

The whole day was exactly what the three organizers (Alex Ferdinand, Herbert “Prince” Martina and Donald “Simpletune” Carty promised on their media campaign to promote this event; a fun filled day for the whole family to enjoy. Bouncy castle, popcorn, cotton candy, delicious food and drink, basketball, entertainment and live clean performances from local artist these are just a few things this expo had to offer.

Alex Ferdinand the president of SXMNBA expressed a sigh of relief, stating that; “we have the first one under our belt. This one we didn’t know what to expect especially seeing that this is a whole new concept to St. Maarten. However, we can now use this first event as a gauge you know a measuring stick for our events to come”.

Simpletune who is basically the Beats part of the organization ensured a seamless transition from basketball to the performances deserves his props said a few of the performers. It was indeed a pleasure to be able to enjoy performances without delays, feedback and any other hiccup that would occur.

The Public relations officer Herbert Martina would like to thank the general public, our volunteers, the community council, the players and parents, the artists (Simpletune, Sigma Defence, Swizzy, Sensi-Zee, TrenchKing (D1), Michael Parris, Acero11, Don Grind, DiDreama DjKevin, OneNess), The DJs (Deejay Speed, DJ Tete, DJ Eagle, DJ Nandez) and of course, the sponsors (Maduro Travel SXM, Bobby Marina, Great Bay Express, First Auto SXM, Napa, Motorworld, Computech SXM, Safe Cargo, MarSea Services NV, Monster Factory, CC1 St. Maarten, SXM Beer, Mega Lotto, Intermar Shipping, Caribbean Liquors & Tobacco, Windward Roads, McDonalds, Belair Beach Hotel, Marks Place, 978 Sanctorum) who further made this first event a success.

The organization will like you to stay tune as we embark on our second event which will take place in the area of Belvedere in collaboration with the Pelican Baseball League on Sunday May 30th, 2021. As our first event we will be heavily promoting Belvedere Hoops & Beats expo. We call on the general public to come out and support as you did at the first. We also would like you to check us out on Facebook and like our page www.fb.com/HoopsandBeats where you will be updated with any developments. Lastly, we are still open for support and heavily encourage the business community as well and individuals can contact Alex Ferdinand Tel: +1(721)520-2151 Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to pledge your donation to this worthwhile event.

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NV GEBE receives 50 Laptop Computers. Donates to Educational System

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - NV GEBE announced that the last leg of the laptop donation is now complete with the remaining 50 laptops received from supplier.  The laptops were turned over to the Honorable Minister of Education, drs. Rodolphe Samuel, who will in turn distribute those laptops amongst the Primary Schools on the island for students who are in need.  This donation should help to close the gap in continuous learning on the island during the second year of COVID19 pandemic.  

In the latter part of last year (2020) the former Managing Board of NV GEBE partnered with the Ministry of Education for donation of 400 laptops as the uncertainty continued to hover about the physical reopening of schools due to the COVID 19.  Teachers, parents and students were concerned about the fate of education due to lack of resources to access classes online.   350 of those laptops were donated during the NV GEBE 60th in September 2020, with the balance being turned over the Honorable Minister of Education drs. Rodolphe Samuel today.  These devices can easily flip from being a tablet to full laptop mode and are heralded as among the most easiest to use on the market, getting students online quickly and easily.

Interim Manager of NV GEBE, Mr. Mauricio Dembrook said that, “NV GEBE has always been an avid supporter of youth initiatives programs and will continue to support and partner when called upon to provide students with the tools needed to advance in their education and careers”.  He further stated that these laptops will be very beneficial to students who still have to access online classes as St. Maarten continues to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

The Honorable Minister of Education, drs. Rodolphe Samuel expressed gratitude on behalf of the Ministry of Education, all schools, teachers, parents and especially students who will be making good use of the laptops.   As we continue to fight the pandemic and with schools now reopened, teachers, parents and students must still get use to the world shifting into digital direction.  This timely donation will continue to allow students the access to continuous learning.  

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Shopping, work and walking the dog: over 75% don’t quarantine after travel

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Just 155 of 728 travellers questioned by the public health institute RIVM followed the quarantine rules on their return to the Netherlands from a high-risk country, health minister Hugo de Jonge told MPs on Tuesday.

The RIVM’s behavioural unit carries out regular research into attitudes to coronavirus and on how well the rules are obeyed. This survey involved over 47,000 people.

Quarantine is not yet enforceable by law, but people who have been in a high-risk country are supposed to self-isolate for 10 days on their return, or five days if they have a negative coronavirus test five days after they get back.

Reasons given by people in the survey for not complying with the quarantine arrangements vary from ‘getting some fresh air’ and ‘walking the dog’ to the need to go shopping – which was cited by seven in 10 respondents.

Three in 10 left home to work. Senators are due to vote on May 18 on legislation which will make quarantine compulsory. Just a handful of countries, including Australia, New Zeeland and Singapore do not feature on the Dutch high-risk list.

MPs have criticized the quarantine legislation, particularly the enforcement which will be done on the basis of telephone checks. People who break the rules face a fine of €339.

(DutchNews)

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MP Emmanuel: SMMC’s Australian Director has messy history, calls for appointment reversal

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - Independent Member of Parliament (MP) Christophe Emmanuel on Tuesday revealed that the newly appointed Australian Director of the St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) Dr. Grant Muddle had what he called a “messy history” at his previous hospital tenure and called for the reversal of the decision to appoint him post haste.

“If this is the same person, reverse the decision not only on those grounds, but for the simple fact that this nonsense of appointing people from half way across the world over our own qualified people must stop,” MP Emmanuel said. “The entire board at SMMC has to go. They are there too long and they feel like kings in their own castle. They have no respect for the people of St. Maarten,” he said.

After Muddle’s name was released on Tuesday by workers of the hospital via the media, the MP conducted research into Muddle’s background and his last stint at the Angua Memorial Hospital in Papua New Guinea and found that the staff of that facility and their union protested to have him removed as CEO in January 2020 according to media reports in that country.

About 300 nurses, doctors and ancillary staff including corporate, medical and nursing services signed a petition demanding the Australian’s removal. The union explained that as an expatriate, Muddle had been appointed CEO of the hospital illegally which contradicted general provisions concerning hospital staff that limits the amounts of expatriates that could be appointed to functions in that country.

According to the media in Papua New Guinea, some of the allegations labeled against Muddle include mis-appropriation of hospital funds (failure to reimburse the hospital with funds which were paid to him as advance salary), breach of public service laws in that country, mis-management and unilaterally putting a stop to all training programs funded by the hospital, when training and further education is an important component in upgrading staff. He was eventually sidelined until a replacement could be found according to the media.

MP Emmanuel questioned if a proper background check was conducted into Muddle to determine the validity of these claims and if these issues were resolved before selecting him to run St. Maarten’s hospital. “With his history appearing to be very messy, especially when it comes to dealing with people, the MP said, how is it that an Australian, half way across the world is apparently the only person who knew about a vacancy for a hospital director on St. Maarten?”

“When and where was this vacancy advertised? And for how long was it advertised? How is it that nobody on St. Maarten knew about this vacancy? What are we doing in this country by continuously relegating our people as onlookers while others get the opportunities at top positions? This is not right and stifles any form of nation building and insulting the people of St. Maarten,” the MP said.

He continued: “Was the position even offered to Dr. Holiday who has been running SMMC for almost a year and a half? I can imagine that Dr. Holiday might not have applied when he realized that he did not have the support of the board. We couldn’t find any local professional to run and manage the hospital? What about Dr. Bell? What about Dr. Lloyd Richardson? What about Keith Franca? So many professionals we have on this island and we had to go to Australia? Well the same speed he reached here from Australia, should be the same speed he is returned to Australia. The Minister of Public Health Omar Ottley need to let him know a ticket is waiting for him.”

MP Emmanuel said the hospital board and/or the Minister of Public Health Omar Ottley cannot sit quiete on this one. “Answers must be given and that appointment must be pulled back and given to a local professional,” he said, adding that answers has to also be provided about the alleged golden handshake the former Director of the hospital received to the tune of NAf 500,000.

Emmanuel said this amount could balloon to approximately NAf 600,000 hen tax returns and other remunerations are included. “The most insulting part of this is that the board is telling our nurses, who put their lives on the front line daily, that they are valued at just a 5% increase in their salary, but the board of SMMC can give away half a million guilders as a going away present and bring in an Australian. That is a front and back-hand slap,” the MP said.

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Don’t relax rules until hospital admissions drop 20%, health experts say

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Government health advisors say no further coronavirus measures should be relaxed until the number of people being treated for coronavirus in hospital has gone down by 20% over an average of seven days.

There is no question of this being the case at the moment, the Outbreak Management Team says in its latest recommendations to ministers. The peak, of around 2,700 patients, would appear to have been reached and the likelihood of a further rise has reduced, the OMT said.

However, the advisors said, the crowds on King’s Day and the busy high streets make it extra important to make sure that there is a real drop in hospital admissions before making any more changes.

Last month the OMT recommended that no measures at all be relaxed until the number of hospital admissions had fallen by 10%. Ministers, however, decided to go ahead with scrapping the curfew and allowing limited pavement café opening, despite the lack of clear evidence of a reduction.

At the weekend health minister Hugo de Jonge said it is still too early to take the next step in the five-step plan to phase out the coronavirus restrictions, delaying any new relaxation of the rules until May 18 at the earliest. The decision means museums, zoos and gyms cannot reopen on May 11 as had been hoped.

Holidays

However, De Jonge has pledged to give people more clarity about the options for summer holidays next week, and, according to the AD, travel companies are expecting a run on sunshine breaks.

Holiday company Corendon, for example, expects that 60% to 70% of its customers this year will book no more than a month before their departure date. An increasing number of countries, such as Spain, Greece and Italy, have said that they will welcome tourists this summer, as long as they have been vaccinated.

The OMT has also recommended that no more experiments with ‘coronavirus-free’ events under the Fieldlab banner be carried out until the rules can be further relaxed.

(DutchNews)

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Rise in coronavirus hospital patients under 60 ‘concerning’, says RIVM

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The number of coronavirus cases fell by 5.5% in the last seven days, but the proportion of positive tests rose for the sixth consecutive week.

The decline in positive tests has not yet relieved pressure on hospitals, where more than 2,600 people are being treated for Covid-19. However, admissions to hospital fell by 7.9% while the number being transferred to intensive care was unchanged from the previous week.

The latest weekly bulletin by the public health agency RIVM shows infections and hospital admissions are increasingly concentrated in the unvaccinated younger age groups.

Cases increased in the 15 to 30 age group, with the 20 to 24 bracket surpassing the peak of the second wave, with 554 infections per 100,000 people. By contrast, infections in the oldest age groups have declined steadily since January.

In the 80-84 population there were 59 infections per 100,000 last week, compared to 351 at the end of December.

The RIVM said it was concerned about the rising trend in the number of people aged 40 to 59 being taken to hospital with Covid-19, which has almost doubled since the beginning of March.

People in this age group are particularly susceptible to so-called ‘long Covid’, where symptoms such as fatigue, breathlessness and ‘brain fog’ last for months.

Fewer admissions

In the last week another 1,633 coronavirus patients were admitted to Dutch hospitals, down from 1,774 the previous week, but the number currently being treated is virtually unchanged from a week ago at 2,613.

The Outbreak Management Team has advised the government that restrictions should not be eased further until the figure has dropped by 20%.

There were 377 admissions to intensive care, two fewer than the previous week, while the total number of patients is currently 818, also two below last Tuesday’s number. Another 128 deaths from Covid-19 were reported in the last seven days, one fewer than the previous week.

Positive rate rising

The positive test rate increased from 10.6% to 11.7%, the highest level since the end of January. Fewer tests were carried out partly because of the King’s Day public holiday, while technical issues at the weekend left some local health boards unable to book tests.

The latest daily figures, which include a partial correction for the weekend disruption, showed another 7,830 cases were reported in the 24 hours to Tuesday morning. The latest calculation of the reproductive number R, dated April 19, is 0.94, down from 1.05 the previous week.

If the number is below 1 it indicates the virus is in decline. Around the 25 health board (GGD) regions infections per 100,000 people range from 180.5 in Drenthe to 438 in Brabant-Noord.

Seventeen areas are above the 250 mark, classing them as ‘very severe’ on the government’s four-step scale. No region is close to the benchmark of 27 hospital admissions per 100,000 people per week which would allow it to move down from level 4 (very severe) to level 3 (severe).

(DutchNews)

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