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Dutch supermarket introduces ‘quiet hour’ for people with autism

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Supermarket Albert Heijn in Sint-Michielsgestel has introduced a weekly ‘quiet hour’ for people with autism.

On Tuesday mornings music, noise and light will be kept to a minimum in what can be an overwhelming environment for people who have trouble processing multiple impulses, local broadcaster Omroep Brabant writes.

The idea comes from Britain where supermarket chains such as Tesco and Morrissons already have a similar service for people with autism.

According to a survey by autism association NVA, shoppers are mostly put off by supermarket noises such as piped-in music and clatter but also by the sudden appearance of a pallet of goods in the isles and products that weren’t lined up properly on the shelves.

‘Instead of asking ‘do you have your bonus card’? we ask, ‘can I have your bonus card?’ at the check-out. It’s less confusing,’ supermarket assistant-manager Eva Mennes told the broadcaster.

Mennes, who came up with the idea, said the Albert Heijn in Sint-Michielsgestel is the first Dutch supermarket to introduce a quiet hour.

Tuesday

‘We chose Tuesday morning because there is no stocking to be done which makes for less noise and disturbance,’ Mennes said. Supermarket staff don’t have to go around whispering, however, and the shop is open to other shoppers as well.

The initiative has been by the NVA, although NVA ambassador Jasper Wagteveld said shopping ‘remains a challenge’. ‘There is so much stuff to choose from. I am at a complete loss if my wife doesn’t tell me exactly what meat, pasta or vegetables to get, he told the NVA website.

It is not yet clear whether other supermarkets will follow in Albert Heijn’s footsteps. According to the NVA, some 190,000 people in the Netherlands have an autism spectrum disorder. (DutchNews)

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Study of 70,000 girls finds cervical cancer vaccine is safe

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A vaccine that prevents cervical cancer is safe, the public health institute RIVM has concluded following a study of 70,000 girls. The research was carried out after the take-up rate for the jab fell to 46%, considerably lower than for most other vaccines.

Ten years ago, the figure was 61% The injection immunises against the human papillomavirus (HPV) and is given to girls at around the age of 12. Around 20% of teenage girls reported experiencing severe fatigue and headaches around the time they were given the jab.

However, the RIVM’s study found that girls were just as likely to see their doctor with these symptoms before the injection. The RIVM concluded there was no causal link between the vaccine and the symptoms after studying the medical records of 70,000 girls in the Rotterdam area.

A smaller study of 49 girls who experienced them for six months or longer found that 37 of them were no more likely to visit their doctor after receiving the jab. Around 80% of women contract an HPV infection in their lifetime.

The virus is sexually transmitted and responsible for 70% of cervical cancers or pre-cancerous lesions. Cervical cancer is diagnosed in around 700 women in the Netherlands each year, 200 of whom die as a result. (DutchNews)

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More solar power in the Netherlands but networks may be unable to cope

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch electricity network is unable to cope with the growing amount of solar power in the country and this may hamper the growth of this alternative source of energy, the NRC reported on Friday.

NRC paper says the government has pledged subsidies for some 5,000 megawatts of production capacity in the coming years which would double the number of solar panels.

But network operators Liander and Enexis told the paper they have already had to limit, or stop, the amount of energy they are processing, a measure that affects some twenty solar farms.

The problem lies with 15 substations which have reached maximum capacity. Increasing that will take two to five years, which could hamper the growth of solar power in the Netherlands.

In less densely populated areas, such as the northern provinces, the network cables are ‘thinnest’ and particularly vulnerable, the operators say. They also have the lowest land prices and space to build solar power farms, which are proliferating there.

‘These networks are now handling big volumes. (..) and if the sun shines all solar farms will generate more and create peaks in volume as well,’ Daan Schut, network development manager at Liander, told the paper.

Subsidies

A complicating factor is that the subsidies depend on a solar farm being productive within three years. ‘If we fail to get a connection to the network in time the subsidy is off,’ solar farm developer Gerben Smit told the paper.

Smaller solar power projects, such as solar panels on roofs of businesses, are also facing delays when it comes to feeding electricity to the network. Roland Pechtold, solar power projects director at GroenLeven, says the problems will be even bigger next year.

Some dozens of megawatts of electricity would not be fed to a network, he said. ‘And one megawatt would be enough for a thousand households.’

Network operators have said they want more say from the government about where solar power farms are going to be built, so they know where the network needs strengthening.

It also wants assurances that a change to the infrastructure is profitable. For the moment network operators are connecting as many solar farms as possible, with restrictions as to the amount of energy they can offload until the capacity problems can be solved, the NRC said. (DutchNews)

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Hundreds of village schools face closure if new pupil number rules are applied

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Education council Onderwijsraad and the government could find themselves at loggerheads over a new pupil number norm introduced this year, RTL Nieuws reports.

Over 900 primary schools in the Netherlands would have too few pupils if the new standard were to be applied, and an unknown number of schools would face closure, RTL found.

The new rules say schools must have a certain number of pupils to remain viable, depending on the number of children in a given municipality. That means that in Amsterdam a primary school must have at least 195 pupils while in a smaller municipality such as Epe or Delfzijl 50 pupils would be enough.

The government has pledged to support small schools, but the education council is in favour of closing those with 50 or fewer pupils because they are vulnerable to problems such as teachers falling ill or a lack of contact with children of the same age.

Small schools can also combine up to four different classes in one schoolroom which is difficult for the teacher, the council claims, and are also relatively more expensive.

Financial support

Small schools already receive extra government financial aid, and this will be upped as of this year. ‘Small schools have a crucial function in small communities,’ education minister Arie Slob said when he outlined the measure.

Figures published in 2015 show around one in four Dutch villages have no school. The problem is most acute in the northern province of Friesland, where 185 villages have no educational facilities.

The average distance from home to primary school used to be just under one kilometre but has now stretched to 3.4 kilometres, meaning young children can no longer cycle on their own. (DutchNews)

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Government earmarks €5m for Mexican flu vaccine side-effect victims

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The government has set aside €5m to compensate a group of seven to 11 people who were given the Pandemrix vaccine against Mexican flu and who may have developed narcolepsy as a result, the Volkskrant reported on Friday.

The vaccine, which is not the same as the annual flu jab, was given to around half a million children at the time of the flu outbreak in 2009.

It is rare for the state to come to a financial settlement with individuals about side effects because the vaccines are extensively tested, the paper said, adding that the fact that an amount has been set aside does not mean the state admits liability.

Studies into the occurrence of narcolepsy as a side-effect of the vaccine have proved contradictory. Narcolepsy is a debilitating disease that makes people fall asleep at odd moments and can weakens the muscles in moments of stress.

‘It is very difficult to prove if individual cases are the result of the vaccine,’ Agnes Kant, director of drug safety centre Lareb, told the paper. ‘But if you look at all the studies, there is a strong indication that in rare cases Pandemrix can play a role in the development of narcolepsy.’

In 2016 a 15-year-old boy in Britain who also had the vaccine and subsequently developed narcolepsy was awarded the equivalent of €163,000 in damages.

Individual pay-outs

A health ministry spokesperson told the paper that nothing can be inferred about the amount given in individual compensation from the €5m stated in the health ministry budget.

But personal injury lawyers John Beer and Lucas Hogeling, who represent the families of the children who may have been affected, say it’s ‘remarkable’ the government mentioned an amount at all.

‘We are still talking to the state advocate and experts about how extensive the damage is. These are young people now, between 10 and 15 years old, some of whom are unable to work or study full-time. So that €5m could easily become €10m,’ they told the Volkskrant. (DutchNews)

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Health insurer takes pharma giant to court for ‘evergreening’

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Health insurance group Menzis is taking legal action against Astra Zeneca, accusing the pharmaceuticals firm of ‘dragging out’ patents to make it pay too much for drugs.

Menzis wants €4m in compensation for its clients, whom, it says, paid too much for a drug named Seroquel. The case will be heard by judges in The Hague on Friday.

Seroquel is a drug which helps people who suffer from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorders.

The patent on one variety expired in 2012 but Menzis says Astra Zeneca prolonged it until 2014 by a process known as ‘evergreening‘. Once the patent expired, the price of the drug plunged 90% as other generic drugs firms began making their versions.

‘It is the first time that a health insurance has taken a drugs company to court for this kind of thing,’ Henk Eleveld, a pharmacist who advises Menzis, said in a statement. ‘We are taking this step because of ethics.

Pharmaceuticals companies keep the price of medicine artificially high and it is people who pay for health insurance who pick up the bill.’ (DutchNews)

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Postmen and women to go on strike in protest at ‘sort mail while you walk’ plan

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Postal delivery workers at PostNL will go on strike on Thursday as part of a continuing protest over plans to make delivery workers sort post as they do their rounds.

The strike means large parts of the country will not receive any letters or small packages tomorrow although big parcels will be delivered as normal.

Trade union federation FNV said Den Bosch, Amsterdam and Arnhem regions will be particularly targeted for strike action but it is expecting postal workers from other parts of the country to join the strike.

The strike is in protest against plans by PostNL to have postal workers do some mail sorting as they do their rounds. In addition, they say, fully automating the sorting process will mean the loss of hundreds of jobs.

The strike is the last in a series of strikes and industrial action at PostNL. (DutchNews)

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Dijkhoff’s ‘ghetto’ plan shot down, as MPs debate 2019 budget

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – VVD MP Klaas Dijkhoff’s call for the Netherlands to follow Denmark in introducing tougher penalties for people from ‘problem areas’ who commit crimes were dismissed as a smoke screen and class justice by MPs during Wednesday’s debate on the government’s new spending plans.

Each party leader is given time to speak in the debate, and Dijkhoff used part of his to call on the coalition to adopt the Danish methods – plans which he had outlined in the AD on Wednesday morning.

Denmark has introduced a string of measures, including compulsory pre-school education and tougher sentencing, in a bid to combat the development of what it calls ‘ghettos’.

Dijkhoff, who currently leads the VVD in parliament, said in an interview with the paper that integration has ‘failed’ and that he believes the Netherlands is failing to give people the freedom they should have.

He wants the cabinet to draw up a list of areas where the non-western immigrant population tops 50% and where unemployment and crime are high.

Dijkhoff said he also backed the introduction of compulsory lessons in ‘democratic values and traditions’, saying that people who do not cooperate should face benefit cuts.

His comments dominated the early part of the debate and pushed opposition criticism of the plan to scrap the tax on dividends into the background.

Zuidas

Socialist leader Lilian Marijnissen told the debate: ‘Dijkhoff seems to be suggesting that he wants to introduce class justice. Should that also go for [Amsterdam business district] Zuidas, where fraud is more prevalent?’

Dijkhoff replied by saying he did not consider the Zuidas to be a criminal neighbourhood. The aim of his plan is to enable people from difficult areas to ‘work their way out’, he said.

Alexander Pechtold, leader of the the VVD’s coalition partner D66, described the concept as ‘transparent’ and said it would be ‘idiotic’ to label some areas tougher punishment zones.

Amstelveen

And Sybrand Buma, leader of coalition partner CDA, wanted to know if a person who beat up an emergency service worker in Amstelveen should get a lighter sentence than someone in Amsterdam’s Nieuw West.

Tunahan Kuzu of Denk asked Dijkhoff how the policy would relate to the concept of equality in the eyes of the law. ‘I though at first this was a trick to distract us from the plan to scrap the tax on dividends.

But then I thought, if this is what you think, why do you vote against measures to combat poverty and inequality?’ The debate on the budget will continue into Wednesday evening and resume on Friday, after the prime minister returns from an EU summit. (DutchNews)

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KLM-backed bio-kerosene plant may open in the Netherlands

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands is on the verge of getting its first factory to produce bio-kerosene, an alternative fuel to tradition kerosene and made out of biomass, the AD said on Tuesday.

A location for the plant has not yet been confirmed but Groningen is on the shortlist, the paper said. The plans have been confirmed by Maarten van Dijk, director of SkyNRG, which will build the factory.

‘We are in the last phase of selecting the location and suppliers. I think that we will be able to reveal more at the end of this year or beginning of the next,’ he told the paper. Rotterdam and Amsterdam are being considered as alternative locations.

Airline KLM is a important shareholder in SkyNRG and has also confirmed that plans for the factory are being made. The airline currently imports bio-kerosine from Los Angeles and it uses the fuel mainly on its fights to the American east coast.

The AD says there are no other bio-kerosines plants in north-west Europe and that the investment will create a large number of jobs.

Pollution

Passenger air traffic is currently responsible for between 2% and 3% of global carbon-dioxide emissions, but in the Netherlands, the figure is 7%, the AD said. Bio-kerosine is made from leftovers from the timber and agricultural industries, as well as the food processing industry.

Wageningen University said earlier this year that bio-kerosene is a potentially important option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector.

However, the price is two to three times that of ordinary kerosene and ‘the direct and indirect effects… on the aviation sector and the Dutch economy as a whole depend to a large extent on how the additional costs of biokerosene will be funded,’ University researchers said. (DutchNews)

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Dutch firm to recycle babies’ nappies to produce sustainable energy

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Waste processing plant ARN is building a separate facility for recycling babies’ nappies in an initiative supported by 8 local councils in the Nijmegen region.

Babies use around 5,000 nappies until they are potty trained, with half a million nappy wearing children each year, sustainability advisor Milieu Centraal has calculated. More elderly are people are using incontinence pads as well.

The process involves placing the nappies in a reactor which reaches temperature of up to 250 degrees at high pressure. ‘The nappies, including their contents of urine and faecal matter, become liquid and separate into different materials,’ process developer and patent holder Willem Elsinga told broadcaster NOS.

‘The high temperature gets rid of the bacteria, traces of medication and viruses so all the products we make from the diapers will be safe. Otherwise we couldn’t sell them,’ the broadcaster quotes him as saying.

The plant will turn the diapers into four products: green gas, plastics, fertiliser and biomass, which Elsinga says, can be used as an alternative for coal to fire coal plants.

An earlier initiative to recycle diapers in Arnhem ten years ago failed. According to Elsinga that experiment came too early. ‘Everything has to be right: enough diapers, affordable technology and a market that is ready for the products at the end of the line.’

But now local councils are trying to reduce the amount of left-over waste after traditional glass, paper and plastics recycling. ‘We are producing between 150 and 200 kilos of residual waste per head of the population and local councils are keen on separate waste collection.

This sort of thing fits in perfectly,’ Elsinga told NOS. If all goes according to plan, the new plant will come into operation in December. (DutchNews)

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