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New cabinet lines up with the king for socially distanced photograph

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Mark Rutte’s fourth cabinet posed for the traditional photograph with the king on Monday, after all 20 cabinet ministers were sworn in.

Finance minister Sigrid Kaag missed the photo op because she is in quarantine at home after being diagnosed with coronavirus.

Back row, left to right

Minister for nature and nitrogen issues: Christianne van der Wal (VVD)

The CDA chairwoman and provincial council executive in Gelderland in charge of the economy and innovation has the job of slashing nitrogen compound pollution.

Minister for schools: Dennis Wiersma (VVD)

Currently a sitting MP with a background in management, Wiersma has been acting junior social affairs minister since August.

Minister for legal protection: Franc Weerwind (D66)

An Amsterdammer with Surinamese roots, Weerwind is the current mayor of Almere. He is also chairman of cycling association Fietsersbond.

Minister for housing: Hugo de Jonge (CDA)

The former minister of health moves over to housing, where he will be responsible for reforming the Dutch housing market and boosting the supply of affordable homes.

Minister for climate and energy: Rob Jetten (D66)

Previously leader of the parliamentary D66 group, Jetten is vociferous about climate change and his appointment is seen as a plum for the party.

Minister for long-term care and sport: Conny Helder (VVD)

Director of a nursing home group and chairwoman of the national organisation Actiz, Helder hit the headlines with her concerns about coronavirus in the care homes sector.

Middle row, left to right

Minister for foreign trade and development aid: Liesje Schreinemacher (VVD)

A new face in the cabinet, Schreinemacher, a 38-year-old lawyer, was elected to the European parliament in 2019 on preference votes.

Minister of social affairs and employment: Karien van Gennip (CDA)

Was a junior minister under Jan Pieter Balkenende and the first MP to make use of maternity leave. She has a degree in physics from Delft and currently works for ING bank.

Minister of economic affairs and climate: Micky Adriaansens (VVD)

A senator since 2019 and director at consultancy Twynstra Gudde, Adriaansens began her career as a lawyer.

Minister of defence: Kajsa Ollongren (D66)

Home affairs minister in the outgoing government, Ollongren has dual Swedish and Dutch nationality.

Minister of infrastructure and waterways: Mark Harbers (VVD)

Harbers was junior minister responsible for immigration in the previous administration but was forced to resign in 2019 following a row over a report on refugee crime.

Minister of agriculture, nature and food quality: Henk Staghouwer (CU)

Groningen provincial council executive with responsibility for agriculture, nature and the Wadden sea, and owner of a chain of bakeries.

Minister of health, welfare and sport: Ernst Kuipers (D66)

Chairman of Erasmus University medical centre and head of the national acute care network, Kuipers has become a prominent personality in the coronavirus pandemic.

Front row, left to right

Minister of home and kingdom affairs: Hanke Bruins Slot (CDA)

With an army career behind her, Bruins Slot has been an MP since 2010, specialising in defence and local government.

Minister for poverty strategy, participation and pensions: Carola Schouten (CU)

A farmer’s daughter and agriculture minister in the outgoing cabinet, Schouten moves to the new post of participation and pensions.

Prime minister: Mark Rutte (VVD)

Leading his fourth cabinet, Mark Rutte managed to survive various crises during the formation process. Rutte, 54, has been prime minister since 2012.

King Willem-Alexander

Minister of foreign affairs: Wopke Hoekstra (CDA)

Hoekstra, leader of the CDA, had wanted to stay at finance, but his party’s poor showing in the March general election forced a change of job.

Minister of justice and security: Dilan Yesilgöz (VVD)

Born in Ankara and a former Amsterdam councillor, Yesilgöz was elected to parliament in 2017 and has been junior economic affairs minister since May.

Minister of education, culture and science: Robbert Dijkgraaf (D66)

A scientist attached to Princeton in the US and a popular presenter of televised science lectures, Dijkgraaf is considered the surprise appointment of the cabinet.

Not pictured:

Minister of Finance: Sigrid Kaag (D66)

A multilingual career diplomat until she took over the leadership of D66, Kaag resigned as foreign minister over the Kabul evacuation chaos.

(DutchNews)

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Statia primary and secondary schools closed until January 14th

SINT EUSTATIUS (ORANJESTAD) - Due to the current Covid-19 situation on St. Eustatius (Statia) related to the high number of Covid-19 cases, the Government and the educational partners have decided to keep primary and secondary schools closed next week and introduce distant learning. New Challenges Foundation has also decided not to reopen until January 17th.This decision is the result of an assessment that was made of the current state of affairs at each institution.

In preparation for the reopening schools on St. Eustatius, Government Commissioners Alida Francis and Claudia Toet, met with the management of schools and educational partners on Wednesday, January 6th, 2022, to determine whether to reopen the schools on Monday, January10th, 2022, which is the official starting day following the holidays. 

Given the high number of active COVID-19 cases, it was decided to keep the schools closed for another week and resort to online teaching, as was the earlier in the pandemic. The Directorate of Social Domain will ensure that students who benefit from the school breakfast programme can do so as of Monday January 10th. The Expertise Center will work with schools and the pedagogical worker to ensure that vulnerable youngsters and youngsters with special needs are not left behind.

It was further agreed that all schools, day care centres and Out-of-School programmes will update their contingency plans and ensure strict hygiene measures are in place before physical classes will resume. “The feedback government has received is that more time is needed to prepare for the safe and responsible re-opening schools and other supporting institutions. In the meantime, schools will start with online education based on capacity and online options and tools they have at their disposal. Some schools are better equipped online compared to others. Parties have therefore committed to share their experiences to improve the overall efficiency of distance learning”.  

The way forward

A follow-up meeting with all educational stakeholders is scheduled for Thursday, January 13th, 2022, to determine the COVID-19 readiness of each school. The Public Health Department (GGD), Compulsory Education Office, RCN Education Unit and ECE will form part of these meetings. “Next week it will be decided if schools are ready to open and start physical classes on Monday, January 17th, 2022,” says Government Commissioner Alida Francis.  (Statia GIS)

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TelEm Group urging customers to make payments online to counter new COVID-19 surge

SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - In line with Government’s call for the general population to redouble their efforts to contain the latest surge of the COVID-19 virus on St. Maarten, telecommunication provider, TelEm Group is urging customers to visit company locations as little as possible until further notice and to pay their bills online as much as possible.

According to TelEm Group Management, strict COVID-19 protocols of social distancing, regular disinfecting and hand sanitizing will continue to be observed at the company’s main building on Pond Island and also at its Simpson Bay Branch, along with a limiting of the number of persons allowed into both locations at one time.

“One way to limit the number of persons coming into contact with staff and also exposing themselves to other customers is to make payments online instead of physically lining up to make payments,” says TelEm Group Chief Commercial Officer (CCO), Mr. Michiel Parent.

Mr. Parent says it’s very easy for customers who have not yet tried to make use of the company’s easy online payment method to do so right away.

“All of our customers now receive their invoice via email” said the CCO, Mr. Parent. “Customers who are interested in paying their invoices from the comfort of their homes, but need some instructions, can contact TelEm Group’s Customer Care Center via 611 or 548-help (4357) for further information.”

Mr. Parent says the company has also made it possible for customers to make payments at other locations, such as Smart Concepts 721, at the Carrefour Shopping Arcade, as well as cPost on Cannegieter Street in Philipsburg.

“TelEm Group will continue to do whatever it can to stop the latest spread and surge of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus on St. Maarten, but we also urge personnel, customers and members of the public to continue to take their own actions to prevent the rapid spread of this highly transmissible version of the virus. Continue to practice safe social distancing, limit group activity and interactions, wash and sanitize hands often and keep hands away from your eyes and mouths, and if you have not yet vaccinated or taken a booster, do so NOW!” adds the company in a general public service message.

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COVID-19 active cases on French Saint-Martin Climb to 1,104. Fifth wave underway

SAINT-MARTIN (MARIGOT) - The epidemiological indicators for Saint-Martin as well as for Saint Barthélemy have deteriorated again this week, and the two territories are experiencing an epidemiological dynamic never seen before, the Prefect said in a press statement on Thursday.

The 5th wave is here, the greatest vigilance is required. Saint Martin: For the week of December 27, 2021, to January 2, 2022 (week 52, data stopped on January 2), there are 1,104 new cases in the territory of Saint-Martin, against 142 in week 51 (ARS data) [it should be noted that SPF could not communicate some of its figures for last week].

The number of cumulative cases of coronavirus confirmed in the territory since the beginning of the health crisis is 5,148 (SI-DEP SPF data). It should be noted that since 03/01/2022 (week 1 in progress), 992 new cases of COVID have already been recorded on 3,411 analyzes carried out so a dynamic in very strong growth this week again is proof of a very strong acceleration of the epidemic in the territory!

Everyone is called to the utmost vigilance, the Prefect said on Thursday!

Medical sector facing staff shortages

As of January 5, four (4) confirmed COVID patients are hospitalized at the LCF hospital; 0 are hospitalized at the CH of Bruyn. The hospital impact seems limited for the time being, but the hospital sector is suffering, with many staff being positively impacted.

COVID-19 deaths climb to 59

In week 52, we deplore the death of a COVID-positive patient hospitalized at the University Hospital of Guadeloupe. Since the beginning of the crisis, 59 Saint-Martinois residents and six (6) Saint Barthélémy residents have died of COVID.

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Ministry of VROMI Urges Public to Use Online Service Options due to COVID-19 Spike

SINT MAARTEN (GREAT BAY, (DCOMM) – The Ministry of Public Housing, Environment, Spatial Planning, and Infrastructure (Ministry of VROMI) would hereby like to inform the general public of the following online communication means amidst the spike in COVID-19 cases, as an alternative to limiting face-to-face contact and mitigating potential interruptions in executive functions and client support.

Please contact one of the following emails provided below for inquiries/complaints/follow-up related to:

General inquiries and complaints: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or message the ministry on Facebook.

Building permits and hindrance permits: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Please note the permit department is temporarily not accepting any building permit applications until January 10, 2022.

All inspection inquiries, including environmental complaints and illegal construction: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The ministry urges everyone to take the necessary precautions to prevent further spread of COVID-19 and avoid in-office appointments/visits to the ministry, if possible, for a speedy return to regular operations.

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Police investigate death of man found at Mullet Bay Beach early Wednesday morning

SINT MAARTEN (MULLET BAY) - Early Wednesday morning, January 05, 2022, at around 03:00, the Police Central Dispatch received a call from Coast Guard personnel that they had encountered a man on Mullet Bay beach who was suspected of having committed suicide, the police said in a statement on Wednesday morning.

Several police patrols along with personnel from the forensic and detective departments were dispatched to the location.

Personnel of the forensic department conducted a brief investigation into the circumstances. However, no foul play was detected, in the opinion of the department.

The St. Maarten Police Department extends its condolences to the family and friends of the deceased. Should you or someone you know need professional help, please do not hesitate to contact the Mental Health Foundation through their crisis hotline at +1 721 5205556. (KPSM)

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The Tidal Wave of Omicron has Arrived

SINT MAARTEN (COMMENTARY By Roddy Heyliger) - The Omicron variant, suspected to be less lethal than its cousin Delta, however more contagious/extremely transmissible, will lead to changes in operational guidelines and policies across the world. Public health agencies and others are currently grappling with the surge in active cases including Sint Maarten.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said this week that there was still not enough data available to say whether the Omicron variant is less severe than other coronavirus strains.

The public and private sectors coming out of festive season are now confronted with a surge in COVID-19 cases. One public utility company has announced changes to its office opening days/times due to the increase in COVID-19. It has also stepped-up guidelines in dealing with customers once they arrive at the office.

Public health officials have stressed the need to get boosted in order to protect yourself, other people and the public health service such as the Sint Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) and the home for senior citizens. The White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation this week announced new guidance pertaining to visitors in order to protect its clients, staff, and visitors as a response to the surge in active COVID-19 cases in the country.

In 2020, there were 1.8 million recorded COVID-19 deaths; while in 2021, there were 3.5 million and this could be much higher according to the WHO. The Delta variant took over in 2021. Sint Maarten also experienced its largest number of deaths in 2021 due to Delta variant.

The WHO epidemiologist Dr. Abdi Mahamud noted that an increasing number of studies seemed to show that the Omicron variant appeared to affect mostly the upper respiratory tract, causing milder symptoms. Other strains impact the lungs, and could cause severe pneumonia, a WHO epidemiologist said, but further research was needed to prove this Omicron assessment.

The WHO is pushing for countries to vaccinate 70 per cent of its population, adding that, without this level of vaccine protection, the virus “replicates in an environment that’s overcrowded, not ventilated and not vaccinated,” Dr. Mahamud continued, describing these types of settings as ideal places for COVID-19 to mutate.

“We saw it in Beta, we saw it in Delta, we saw it in Omicron, so it is in the global interest” to vaccinate 70 per cent of national populations to reduce the impact of the variant, he said.

WHO says, “So the main message is, if you are vaccinated, you are protected, but if you are vulnerable or if you have not been vaccinated, this Omicron - however light or mild it may be for others - it could hit you very hard,” Dr. Mahamud said. “So, vaccination (is) very critical.”

Roddy Heyliger

 

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USP questions the continuous use of the term ‘lack of capacity’

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - The board of the United St. Maarten Party (USP) on Tuesday said that the new practice of casually throwing our people under the bus by the Prime Minister and her government with words like “lack of capacity” needs to be stopped.

The party was responding the PM’s statement that she was “not surprised by the conclusion” of the fourth quarter execution report of the country packages. She further stated that the lack of capacity of the government was a point of concern.

“Accountability for failures needs to be placed in the laps of the decision makers because it is their job to structurally address the issues and plans of approach to the agreements they have signed onto taking the current environment into account and stop always placing the blame and weight on the backs of the people,” President of the USP Cecil Nicholas said.

“What steps has been taken to address the situation? Has the snail pace of the governments hiring process been streamlined? Has in house placement which can take 6 months to a year 2 years been stream lined to improve efficiency? Has the finalization process for new hires which currently ranges from several months to a year been addressed?”

Nicholas said not full-filling the requirements agreed to in the country packages has been a re-occurring theme in any and all negotiations/talks with Hague. He said one would expect that plans to address the issue would have been forthcoming, not an admittance that government already knew that the problem exist.

“All you keep hearing from this government is denigration of our people. We have a lack of capacity at PJIA, we have a lack of capacity here, there and everywhere. What next? TELEM? GEBE? The Harbour holding group of companies? Nicholas questioned.

“The lack of capacity we have is in this NA led coalition. The lack of capacity of this NA led government to address the pressing issues of not only the government but the country is what is surprising almost 3 years into this pandemic,” he added.`

He continued: “Has the more than 70 measures that have yet to be publicly announced by NA/UP coalition been thoroughly reviewed and dissected in order to construct a proper plan of approach, based the facts on the ground? Facts in St. Maarten not on Aruba and Curacao which been a point of discussion with The Hague, or are they awaiting instruction to do such as well. One of the measures includes a review of the government apparatus, so we suggest that the Prime Minister’s prioritizes that measures as a means of addressing the shortcomings of the organization and refrain from trivializing the bridled capacity of the people of this country,” Nicholas concluded.

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WYCCF updates Covid-19 Visitation Policy due to the fifth Covid-19 wave.

SINT MAARTEN (ST. JOHN’S ESTATE) - The White & Yellow Cross Care Foundation (WYCCF) has implemented stricter preventative measures to protect its clients, staff, and visitors in response to the surge in active Covid-19 cases on the island.

Starting today, only outdoor visitation (for example, on the porch) will be allowed. Strict use of masks, social distancing, and hand hygiene are required, and visitors can’t access the building or contact other clients. In addition to these measures, the WYCCF also reinstates the preventative testing of all staff twice a week to catch infections early and prevent clusters.

Because our residents are among the highest risk groups, it is crucial to shield them from the virus and prevent a possible outbreak within the facility. When the cases dropped after the last wave of the Delta variant in September 2021, the WYCCF was happy to be able to ease the restrictions again because visitation is very important for our clients. Especially for the older and more vulnerable clients.

The WYCCF hopes to return to pre-covid times as soon as possible. But with the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 circulating and higher numbers of active cases of Covid-19, we have to think about our client’s and staff safety first.

The WYCCF encourages everyone to get vaccinated and get their booster as soon as possible at the CPS in the Vineyard Building. Vaccination increases your protection against the Covid-19 virus and this new Omicron variant. You are less likely to be infected, infect others, and, most importantly, to be hospitalized.

That being said, the WYCCF believes that these guidelines are safe enough to allow visits to happen safely outdoors. Therefore, we would like to encourage those who have a loved one at the WYCCF to come to visit them, as they genuinely appreciate it. 

 

 

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Schools in Holland to open next Monday, but higher education remains shut

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Primary and secondary schools will reopen next Monday as planned but trade schools, colleges and universities will remain shut, the cabinet announced on Monday afternoon.

After school clubs will also reopen from next week. The decision was taken on the basis of recommendations from the government’s Outbreak Management Team, which said reopening schools would be responsible, caretaker education minister Arie Slob said during a short press conference.

Schools will have to take steps to ensure pupil safety, including twice weekly coronavirus tests, and masks outside the classroom, Slob said. Schools closed a week earlier than planned for the Christmas holidays last month, because primary school children in particular were spreading the virus.

‘The OMT says that infections among the youngest have gone down,’ Slob said. But the rate is still highest for people in their 20s and their teens, hence the decision not to reopen higher education. The situation will be looked at again on January 14.

Sports

Outgoing health minister Hugo de Jonge said the decision was a difficult one and that there is risk involved, but at the same time, ministers recognise how important school is to children.

The under 18s will also be able to take part in outdoor sports up to 8pm, rather than 5pm as at present, De Jonge said. The lockdown measures introduced last month have led to the current situation with a downward trend in new cases, De Jonge said.

However, he admitted that infections have been rising for the past four days. ‘We do have concerns about the coming weeks,’ the minister said. In total, 14,623 new coronavirus cases were reported to the public health institute RIVM in the 24 hours to Monday morning.

Monday’s announcement is likely to be the last by De Jonge as health minister, given he is moving to the home affairs ministry as housing chief in the next administration.

(DutchNews)

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