Soualiga Newsday Focus

Soualiga Newsday Focus (2295)

New Covid-19 cases double in a week, demo against cornavirus rules in The Hague

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The number of new coronavirus cases in the Netherlands rose to an 11-week high on Saturday, with the largest number of positive cases – 431 – being reported since May 7.

Saturday’s total was also double that of a week ago. The figures come from data made public by the public health institute RIVM and reflect reported cases rather than the actual daily total.

Officials also say the increase in testing may help explain the rise. As in previous days, most cases are being reported in the Rotterdam region, with an overnight rise of 125.

There were also 67 new cases in the Amsterdam region but just five the in the three northern provinces. Some half of the new coronavirus patients are aged 20 to 40, with 40 to 60-year-olds accounting for most of the rest.

Officials earlier highlighted the rise in cases among the younger generations and research by RTL Nieuws on Saturday shows that one in three people under the age of 30 is not keeping their distance from others while out on the town.

Local health board officials have already closed three cafes in Amsterdam because of coronavirus – two because they were potential sources of clusters and one because a member of staff continued to work with symptoms.

At the same time, Rotterdam’s mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb has written to student organisations urging them to act responsibly as the start of the new term nears.

City officials are particularly concerned that coronavirus may spread easily among students – and there has already been one cluster around a student event in the port city.


Meanwhile, several hundred people opposed to the government’s measures to combat Covid-19 held a demonstration in The Hague. There were two arrests, and police several times asked the organisers to tell the crowd to keep their distance from each other.

In the main, however, the atmosphere was calm and peaceful, broadcaster NOS said.



Face masks to be ‘compulsory’ in busy parts of Amsterdam, Rotterdam

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Face masks are to be made compulsory in busy parts of Amsterdam and Rotterdam from August 5, and people who refuse to comply could be fined, city officials have confirmed.

The move was widely expected following the government’s decision not to bring in a national face mask requirement but to allow officials to bring in local measures. This is despite government advisors saying again that there is insufficient evidence that masks will stop infections.

In Rotterdam, where the number of coronavirus infections has risen more than anywhere in the Netherlands in recent days, masks will be compulsory in three big markets and two shopping centres.

In Amsterdam, where tourists have now returned, masks must be worn in the red-light district and two busy shopping streets, plus two markets.


Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb has been campaigning for the right to make people wear masks since the number of cases of Covid-19 in the city began to rise, and stresses masks are not replacing the 1.5 metre rule.

‘I want to be able to say to myself that I did everything possible to try to avoid one Rotterdammer picking up or dying from coronavirus,’ he told broadcaster NOS. ‘In the main, it will get people to keep their distance… and we think it will increase the sense of urgency.’

Although the official Dutch line is that masks don’t work, there is some evidence that they can reduce the risk of infections – depending on the epidemiological situation in the country, website reported.

According to Norwegian research, for example, between 100,000 and one million people would have to wear a mask to prevent one case of Covid-19.


Shopkeepers say they understand why the Netherlands’ two biggest cities are taking the step but warn that communication is crucial. ‘It must be clear that responsibility for policing the rule is not up to shopkeepers,’ retail organisation Detailhandel Nederland said. ‘We are the service provider.’

Legal experts, however, have raised doubts about the introduction of face masks in some areas, particularly given that the measure is officially aimed at changing people’s behaviour.

Groningen University law professor Jan Brouwer, has said that legally, local majors do not have the right to make masks compulsory in their towns and cities. Legislation allowing special measures to cope with the coronavirus pandemic still has to be approved in parliament, and that legislation specifically refers to the wearing of masks, Brouwer points out.

His colleague Adriaan Wierenga told the AD that he is worried the use of masks may stop people taking other measures seriously and undermine the legitimacy of other measures.

‘You are planning to police measures which the government itself says don’t work,’ he said. ‘How do you plan to do that?’ Meanwhile, Groningen is introducing a 1.30am closure for the city’s cafes and bars on Friday and Saturday nights in an effort to stop overcrowding in popular areas for going out.



Hofstad group member Samir A arrested on charges of financing terrorism

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – One of the Netherlands’ most notorious convicted terrorists has been arrested in Rotterdam on charges of financing terrorism, his lawyer has confirmed to broadcaster NOS.

Samir A was released from jail in 2013 after serving two thirds of his sentence for plotting attacks in the country. He has now been arrested and charged with collecting money for women and children living in IS-controlled parts of Syria.

However, lawyer Tamara Buruma says the money, food and medicine was sent to women and children living in camps. ‘No money has gone to IS,’ she said.

A was a member of a loose grouping of young men nicknamed the Hofstad group by police and went through three trials before he was finally convicted of membership of a terrorist organisation, plotting attacks on political targets and recruiting people for the armed struggle against ‘the enemies of Islam’.

The NRC interviewed A last year after being tipped off that he was collecting money for the children of another member of the Hofstad group, who had died in Syria. In the interview he denied helping terrorists.

‘If you know that children are dying of hunger, then you help them,’ he said. ‘People who do not help should be held to account.’



Government must not neglect people’s well-being, say researchers

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The effect of the coronavirus crisis on the broad prosperity of the Netherlands is limited as yet, but it is affecting happiness, the annual Rabobank prosperity poll shows.

The poll, which questions people on an array of prosperity-related indicators, found that more people than last year indicated they had ‘sufficient income’ – 55.9% compared to 52.7 % last year.

But while this props up the broad prosperity of the Netherlands for now, the Dutch have suffered where social contacts, housing and happiness are concerned. Almost three in 10 respondents said they felt less happy, up five percentage points compared to last year’s poll, and this is ‘a significant deterioration’ the researchers said.

Fewer people than last year said they were happy about their home but this, researchers said, is a trend that started before the crisis. It is probable, however, that lockdown, working from home and the fact that children could not go to school made people more critical about their housing situation.

Most people still feel they are able to maintain social contact with friends and relatives but the extent to where they can physically do this was impacted significantly by the lockdown.

The researchers are warning the government that future insecurity about jobs and loss of income is likely to be exacerbated by the lack of well-being.

‘Let this be a lesson for the approach to this crisis: do not forget that, apart from health and the economy, there are other important elements that make up prosperity, particularly, now that we’re are beginning to see the first hairline fractures,’ the report said.



Police turn back 302 travellers at Schiphol, who arrived despite Covid rules

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Border police at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport have turned away almost 1,000 people trying to enter the Netherlands so far this year, of whom 302 were in breach of coronavirus regulations.

The largest group of foreign nationals arriving at Schiphol, despite borders being closed to all but essential travellers, were from the US, the Telegraaf reported on Thursday.

‘We have our hands full with refusals and research at the border because of the Covid-19 rules,’ spokesman Stan Verberkt told the paper. ‘And we are also being flooded with questions from travellers who no longer know what is, and is not, allowed.’

Pressure on border police has increased this week, now the Netherlands has agreed to admit the foreign partners of people who were stranded abroad since the start of the epidemic.

Prior to Covid-19 some 200,000 people passed through Schiphol on busy days, but that is now more than 50,000, the paper said.



Dutch gymnastics association suspends coaches pending abuse probe

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch gymnastics association KNGU has suspended its top-level coaches and halted training for its international women’ teams pending an investigation into claims about physical and mental abuse.

Several former gymnasts have come forward in recent days to speak about their experiences of being hit, shouted at and belittled, often while still very young. Direct claims have also been made about two of the current top coaches, Vincent Wevers and Gerben Wiersma.

‘The stories are coming from all sides,’ KNGU chairwoman Monique Kempff told a news conference. ‘And if you want to make a cultural shift, you cannot take half measures.’

Last weekend, former trainer Gerrit Beltman set the ball rolling in an interview with the Noord Hollands Dagblad, in which he admitted physical and mental abuse. Later, former gymnast Joy Goedkoop told television programme Studio Sport about the abuse she had been subjected too at the hands of Wevers from the age of seven.

Wevers is also the father of Olympic champion Sanne Wevers and won the coach of the year award in 2016. Sanne, her sister and the rest of the Dutch international team have issued a joint statement saying they do not recognise the picture which has been painted in the media about physical abuse within the sport.

‘As far as we are concerned, physical and mental flagellation are in the past. Our current team operates in a healthy, top-level sports climate,’ the statement said.



Real Dutch Covid-19 death toll likely to be above 10,000, says CBS

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The number of people dying of Covid-19 in the Netherlands may be up to 100% higher than the official figures, national statistics agency CBS said on Wednesday.

The CBS has introduced a new method to calculate the number of excess deaths – that is the number of deaths above and beyond the expected number. The new figures cover the period March 9 to May 24 and show that between 8,593 and 11,691 more people died than had been expected according to a comparison with previous years.

The CBS says there is a 95% certainty that the real death rate will be between these two figures, and itself uses 10,164 as the actual total for the first 11 weeks of the crisis.

‘The results show that in addition to every 10 registered Covid-19 deaths, between five and 10 people died who were not registered as coronavirus victims,’ the CBS said.

During the same period, 5,900 people were officially registered as dying from coronavirus. The official figure, which only includes people who were tested for the virus, currently stands at 6,145.

In particular, the excess death rate is high at the beginning of the pandemic because testing was not widespread at the time, the CBS said.



Janssen Vaccines to start coronavirus trials in the Netherlands in September

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Leiden-based pharmaceuticals company Janssen Vaccines is to start further trials of a potential coronavirus vaccine in the Netherlands, Spain and Germany in September, the company has confirmed.

Janssen, part of the giant Johnson & Johnson pharmaceuticals group, has already begun trials of the vaccine in Belgium and the US, where it is quicker to get permission for human testing.

The study currently underway involves giving participants two vaccinations, eight weeks apart. ‘In September we will look at giving less of the vaccine and if the interval can be made shorter,’ research leader Hanneke Schuitemaker told television programme Nieuwsuur on Monday evening.

The trials will be managed by Utrecht and Leiden teaching hospitals, among others, according to the Financieele Dagblad.

Four pharmaceuticals companies are currently in phase three of testing a potential coronavirus vaccine involving major human trials, and Janssen Vaccines hopes to enter phase 3 by October.

‘Nine out of 10 vaccines fail in the final phase of development, so it is not a done deal,’ Schuitemaker said. Phase 3 trials determine if a vaccine offers sufficient protection.

The Dutch government is part of a group of EU countries which have pre-ordered three million vaccines from AstraZeneca, which hopes to have its first vaccines ready by the end of this year.



Coronavirus cases rise for third week in a row but rate is slowing

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The number of new coronavirus cases in the Netherlands has increased for the third week in a row, with 1,329 infections reported in the last seven days.

The latest weekly update by the public health agency RIVM shows there were 342 more new cases than in the third week of July, representing a 35% increase. A week ago, the number of new infections almost doubled from 534 to 987.

The total number increased on Tuesday by 223, the highest daily figure since May 21, while the R0 number, which indicates how many people each infected person passes the virus on to, went up from 1.29 to 1.40.

Another 23 Covid-19 patients were admitted to hospital, four more than a week ago, and nine more deaths were recorded. The RIVM said it was seeing more clusters of infections, with 133 identified clusters of between three and 30 people.

The majority of cases where the source of the infection has been traced are in family groups. Virologist Aura Timen, who described last week’s figures as a ‘wake-up call’, said the trend in the last seven days was ‘reassuring’.

‘We’ve still seen an increase this week, but it’s not going as quickly as last week,’ she said. The government’s Outbreak Management Team met on Tuesday to discuss whether face masks should be made compulsory in more situations to curb the spread of the virus.

There have been growing calls for tougher measures from areas with high infection rates, such as Rotterdam, where city mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb has also said the quarantine rules for travellers from high-risk areas should be more strongly enforced.

The most recent spate of infections is concentrated in the provinces of Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland, which accounted for two-thirds of positive tests in the last two weeks, as well as Zeeland, which had more cases per head of population than any province apart from Zuid-Holland.

Much of the rise can be attributed to a rise in testing. A total of 111,764 tests for coronavirus were carried out in the week to July 26, an increase of 25.7%. In the 41% of cases where the source of the infection could be traced, 85% caught the virus at home, on family visits or at work.

Just over 8% of people who tested positive for the virus had travelled to foreign countries in the last two weeks, of which 46% had visited Belgium.



Poor IT skills mean investigations into money laundering rarely bear fruit

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Only a handful of the tens of thousands of annual reports of suspected money laundering end up in court case because watchdog staff lack IT expertise.

Some 155,000 cases of possible fraud were brought to the attention of the government’s Financial Intelligence Unit (Fiu) last year by banks, accountants, and payroll offices, of which 39,000 were followed up by the prosecution office and the FIOD financial fraud unit.

However, only a very small number actually went to court because the reports were not thorough enough to form the basis of a prosecution, money laundering expert professor Brigitte Unger told Trouw.

‘It sometimes seems the whole reporting system is not worth it,’ she told Trouw. The Fiu reports need too much further investigation and even then, it is not clear if a case will stand up in court, Unger said.

Although the organisation is taking on more staff, the main issue is to improve the level of IT knowledge so a more effective detection of suspect patterns in suspect transactions can take place, she said.

This would require the government to raise the pay to attract IT experts who currently work in more lucrative sectors. Unger did point out that all reports of suspected fraud remain in the Fiu’s database so the information can be used in future cases.

Trouw said Unger’s conclusion will be ‘difficult to stomach’ for banks which have been repeatedly criticised for not checking for suspect transactions by clients.

ABN Amro is currently being investigated for not doing enough to detect money laundering, while ING paid a record €775m fine in an out-of-court settlement two years ago.


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