Soualiga Newsday Features

Soualiga Newsday Features (2510)

As school coronavirus infections rise, teachers call for calm approach

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Schools are now the fourth-most often reported source of coronavirus infections and the number of pupils picking up the virus is increasing, broadcaster NOS said on Tuesday.

Schools have now overtaken nursing homes as a source of infection, figures from public health institute RIVM show. And with the decline in positive tests is stagnating, some experts are saying more needs to be done in schools.

For example, paediatrician and epidemiologist Patrica Bruijning has suggested introducing class by class testing and variable school hours as ways of reducing the risk of infection.

But school heads have dismissed Bruijning’s ideas, which she outlined in a television current affair show on Sunday. And the secondary school association VO Raad has called on experts to ‘share their insights with the government’s Management Outbreak Team, not via the media.’

By going public, experts are ‘creating unnecessary unrest and delivering more questions than answers’, the association said in a statement on Twitter. Both prime minister Mark Rutte and the OMT have said schools are too important to close, both for pupils and parents.

A number of schools have closed their doors for a temporary period because of rising infection rates. Pupils and teaching staff have also been urged to wear masks while moving about school buildings but not while seated during lessons themselves.

Masks are set to become compulsory from December 1. Broadcaster NOS reported later on Tuesday that the OMT is looking at extending the length of the school Christmas holidays as an option.



Positive coronavirus test rate is ‘stagnating’ but rising among teens

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Public health institute RIVM registered almost 37,000 positive coronavirus tests in the week to Tuesday morning, some 700 less than in the previous seven-day period.

The total includes 3,979 newly confirmed cases in the 24 hours to Tuesday 10am, which is down 1,228 on Monday’s new total. Although the percentage of positive tests fell from 13.8% to 12% as more people were tested, the figures are now stagnating, the RIVM said.

The weekly decline is the fourth in a row but officials have warned that there are still too many positive cases to allow the regulations to be relaxed for the Christmas holidays.

Over the past week, 1,291 people were admitted to hospital, down some 200 on the previous week and fewer people were admitted to intensive care wards. The death rate has also gone down.

In total, 422 people died of coronavirus last week, compared with 479 in the previous seven day period. The OMT is thought to be looking at extending the school Christmas holidays to stop the spread of the virus among pupils.

The new RIVM figures show a rise in the number of infections among 13 to 17-year-olds, and a drop across all other age groups. Prime minister Mark Rutte said earlier this month he will give an update on the festive season options by December 8 but warned last weekend that the infection rate still has to come down considerably.



Micro-targeting can influence voting choice, UvA research project shows

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Tailor-made messages from political parties that depend on your personality can have an effect, according to research carried about by scientists at the University of Amsterdam.

Political micro-targeting will likely have a role in next year’s parliamentary elections and research shows people’s behaviour can be directed when they read a politically-oriented advertisement on social media.

‘You can’t get a VVD member to vote for GroenLinks… but microtargeting could be the final push a voter needs to choose a particular party,’ researcher Tom Dobber told broadcaster NOS.

The researchers asked their subjects write a message on a self-made social media website that resembles Facebook. They then analysed the texts to assess the different personality types.

‘There are certain words that are strongly linked to extroverts and other words that belong to introverts,’ says Dobber. ‘The algorithm knows that and then divides those people into groups.’

Scientific literature suggests introverts are more sensitive to messages with a gloomy undertone while extroverts react more strongly to enthusiastic messages. In one of the experiments, a fake advertisement was made for the right-wing VVD, with two different messages for the different personality types.


The enthusiastic message stated that ‘The security in our country is better than ever. Vote VVD and we will ensure that you are fully protected.’ The second message had a completely different tone.

‘The security in our country is at risk,’ it said. ‘Vote VVD, because our security is more at stake than ever. Extroverts responded better to the first message while introverted subjects felt more attracted to the second call.

The experiment shows that the texts people leave on social media can be used to make assumptions about their personality, and that, in turn, can be used to manipulate them, the researchers say.

There are no indications this has yet happened in the Netherlands, although research by the NOS has showed that, for example, that the VVD targeted tennis fans in the 2018 local elections.

The experiment was partly inspired by Cambridge Analytica scandal in which the political consulting firm-built personality profiles of hundreds of millions of Facebook users and used it to send them tailored political messages.



Decline in coronavirus infections continues to slow

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The drop in coronavirus infections has almost ground to a halt in the last seven days, latest figures from the public health agency RIVM show.

Another 5,214 cases were reported in the 24 hours to 10am on Monday, 182 fewer than Sunday’s figure but 8% higher than the number recorded a week earlier. Over the past 7 days the number of new infections has dropped by just 2.1% on average, compared to more than 30% two weeks ago at the start of the two-week accelerated lockdown.

The number of patients being treated in hospital increased for the second day in a row to 1,968, of whom 536 were in intensive care – four fewer than on Sunday. The RIVM reported another 54 deaths from Covid-19, compared to an average of 60 for the past seven days.

The network of local health services (GGDs), which organises coronavirus testing, said 25,000 more tests were carried out last week compared to the previous week, a 10% increase.

Currently around 35,000 tests are carried out in the Netherlands per day. It is the first time since mid-October that the number of tests has increased week to week. In total more than four million coronavirus tests have been carried out.



Christmas options limited as infection rate stabilises, Rutte warns

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – It will be difficult to relax the strict coronavirus measures now in place if the current rate of new infections continues, prime minister Mark Rutte told an online meeting of  his party, the right-wing Liberal VVD, on Saturday.

Over 6,000 new cases were reported in the 24 hours to Saturday morning and this, said Rutte, was not something he wanted to see. Again, he reiterated the message from last week’s press conference: if people stick to the rules, and infection rates come down ‘we might be able to do something in December’.

The cabinet has agreed to discuss whether or not some measures, such as the closure of cafes and bars, could be relaxed for the festive season. And Rutte promised on Tuesday to give more information about what may and may not be possible for larger group meetings at Christmas by December 8.

‘But with these figures it will be difficult,’ Rutte told the online meeting. In total, 6,093 new coronavirus cases were registered on Saturday, 126 more than in Friday’s report, showing that the drop which began at the end of October has now stagnated.

The number of hospital patients continues to decline, with 185 new patients on Saturday, or down 32 on Friday’s figure. In total, 1,902 people are now being treated in hospital for coronavirus, of whom 550 are in intensive care.



Hospital coronavirus patient total dips below 2,000

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The number of people being treated in hospital for coronavirus dipped under 2,000 in the 24 hours to Friday morning, according to new figures.

In total, 217 new patients were admitted to hospital, but with discharges outstripping new admissions, the total number of coronavirus patients fell to 1,961. Of them, 547 are being treated in intensive care, down seven on the previous day’s total.

The number of new infections remains difficult to ascertain following computer problems earlier in the week. In the 24 hours to Friday morning, 5,974 new cases were registered with public health institute RIVM.

On Thursday, there were 5,720 new cases, but officials said about a thousand of those were from previous days. Nevertheless, the infection rate would appear to be stabilising rather than continuing the downward trend, with an average of 5,250 positive tests a day over the past week.

In the previous week, the daily average was 5,550. The death rate too has stabilised, averaging 67 a day for the past week, unchanged from the earlier seven-day period.

However, these figures only include people who have tested positive for coronavirus and the excess death rate would indicate the figure is higher. In the past week, 3,600 people died nationwide, some 670 more than statistics would indicate.

Most of these deaths are likely to be attributable to coronavirus.



More room for doctors to grant euthanasia to deeply demented patients

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Guidance for doctors on granting euthanasia to patients with advanced dementia has been relaxed as a result of a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year.

The regional euthanasia review committees (RTE), which review every case of euthanasia in retrospect to assess whether due care criteria have been correctly applied, have changed four aspects of their code for doctors in such cases.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court overturned a murder verdict against former nursing home doctor Marinou Arends for giving euthanasia to a 74-year-old woman with advanced Alzheimer’s, on the basis of two ‘advance directives’ she had drawn up previously.

The woman had signed these documents saying she did not want to go into a nursing home with euthanasia but wanted to die when she felt ‘the time was right’.

However by the time she entered the Mariahoeve care home in The Hague, she was no longer mentally competent and during the euthanasia procedure Arends first gave her a sedative in her coffee and when she sat up and appeared to draw back from the lethal infusion, her son-in-law pushed her down in her bed again.

The Supreme Court ruled that the doctor had not broken any laws, tearing up a written reprimand for Arends and establishing that if a patient is no longer capable of giving assent due to advanced dementia, a doctor can honour a prior written request for euthanasia.

The RTE, which bases its assessments on case law as well as the 2002 euthanasia law of the Netherlands, has now said that doctors have room for interpretation in applying this kind of written request and that they can best judge whether a dementia patient is ‘suffering unbearably’ – one of the six legal requirements for euthanasia.

Although it is not a strict, legal requirement, in practice doctors typically ask a patient whether they still want to die before carrying out euthanasia but the RTE says this is not necessary in such cases.

‘In giving euthanasia to a patient who is no longer mentally competent as a result of advanced dementia, it is not necessary for the doctor to agree with the patient the time or manner in which euthanasia will be given,’ says the new RTE guideline.

‘This kind of discussion is pointless because such a patient will not understand the subject.’ In the Arends case, the administering of a sedative in the patient’s coffee was controversial and a number of other doctors criticised this aspect of the case, with 220 taking out an advertisement saying they would not do such a thing ‘secretly’.

However, the new RTE guidelines make it clear that if a doctor feels a mentally incompetent patient will be ‘disturbed, agitated or aggressive’, then such premedication can be considered.


Jacob Kohnstamm, chair of the five RTEs, told the Volkskrant that the new guidelines would make things easier for doctors faced with a patient request for euthanasia due to dementia. ‘Doctors can now worry less that they are putting a noose around their own necks with euthanasia,’ he reportedly said.

‘They can be less afraid of the justice system and the review committees.’ Euthanasia for people with dementia remains a minefield The NVVE organisation, which promotes the right to euthanasia and campaigned for the original Dutch law, also welcomed the new clarification.

‘This is good for doctors in practice because there is more certainty that their judgements and actions are within the law,’ said director Agnes Wolbert. However, not everyone is happy with the relaxation.

Bert Keizer, one of the opponents of the Arends case, told the Volkskrant that he opposed the new guidelines although they were ‘a good translation of the Arends case into practice.’

He reportedly said: ‘There are very few doctors who want to do this, but it is good for those who do do this to have this clearly written down on paper.’ Earlier this month, the public prosecution announced that one doctor would not be prosecuted for a 2017 euthanasia on a deeply demented patient and the RTE said its new guidelines had already been applied to one case this year.

The new rules do apply to very few people each year, as most doctors advise that patients with dementia should go at ‘five to 12’ while they still have their wits about them. Last year there were 6,361 cases of euthanasia, representing 4.2% of deaths.

Of these, 160 people had early stage dementia and just two were at an advanced or very advanced stage.



Bingo? Safety chief calls for organised New Year’s Eve parties for youngsters

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Local safety board chief Hubert Bruls has called for organised ‘small scale’ New Year’s Eve celebrations for youngsters in order to avoid new outbreaks of coronavirus, the AD reported on Thursday.

Bruls told the paper in an interview he wants clarity from the government on what can be organised for young people as soon as possible. ‘Let’s not be naïve and think that if we tell people they can’t do something they will comply,’ he said.

‘If there are to be celebrations, we would prefer them to be organised and in the presence of youth workers or a local police officer. Otherwise it will turn into the wild west and I will need to ask wardens and police to fine all those people and that will be a huge policing challenge.’

Asked what sort of activities he had in mind, Bruls told the paper he was ’not in charge of entertainment.’ ‘I’ll leave the creative side to others, if you don’t mind. If people want to play bingo or sing it’s up to them.

As long as it’s small scale.’ Police and experts support the call. ‘It will help to organise activities, we know that from other years’, Gelderland police chief Aart Garssen told the paper.

However, the ban on gatherings and fireworks would not affect the number of officers out in the streets on New Year’s Eve, which would be ‘sizeable’, he said.


Meanwhile, lmost half of young people between 18 and 23 are feeling the effects of the coronavirus restrictions, research has shown. Many are feeling bored because they are unable to go to parties or see their friends.

This has culminated in scores of illegal parties across the country despite hefty fines. Criminologist Henk Ferwerda confirmed that the measures are tough on young people.

‘They are missing out on a lot. (..) Spending New Year’s Eve on the couch with their parents is not an option. They are dying for a party.’ Ferwerda said local councils would do well to involve the youngsters themselves in any planned activities.

‘They have to focus on involving those groups who are less vocal but tend to show risky behaviour,’ he said. The government has pledged to give more details about the options for Christmas and New Year by December 8.



Over 60s, people with serious health issues should get Covid vaccine first

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – People over the age of 60 and those with serious health problems such as heart failure and diabetes should be the first to be given a vaccination against coronavirus, the national health council said on Thursday.

Targeting these groups first would bring about the best health benefits, the council said in recommendations to ministers. In addition, front-line healthcare workers should also be given priority.

However, given that the initial supply of vaccine may be small, the frail elderly with additional health issues should be top of the list, the health council said. The recommendations are based on the current situation and could change if different priorities need to be set or if the vaccine is not suitable for everyone.

‘Once more is known about the suitability of the vaccines for specific groups… the advice may change,’ the council said. ‘The council is following developments closely and, if necessary, will bring out new recommendations.’

For example, if the infection rate is very low, it may be sensible to vaccinate youngsters first, as people in their 20s were behind the second wave, the council said. This would then indirectly protect the elderly and people in vulnerable health.

Health minister Hugo de Jonge said on Tuesday he hoped that a vaccination programme could be rolled out in the first months of next year.



Voluntary early retirement covenant (VVU) is a fact

CURACAO (WILLEMSTAD) - On November 17, 2020 parties in the CGOA, namely the Minister of Administration, Planning and Services (BPD) and the Central Commission of Trade Unions (CCvV) together with the president of the CGOA, Prof. Dr. ing. Valdemar Marcha, signed the covenant on the VVU, amendment of the Pension Ordinance and the phasing-out scheme in time, the Curacao Social Economic Council (SER) said in a statement on Wednesday.

The VVU is intended for civil servants born between 1957 and 1960 or civil servants with more than 30 years of government service. Among the civil servants who also want to leave the public sector voluntarily using the VVU are about 80 teachers, because the scheme also applies to them.

With the signing of this covenant, the procedure to formalize the draft legislations can begin.

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