Focus (2)

Soualiga Newsday Focus (2362)

No, the expats are not leaving, but coronavirus has made it harder to move here

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – There is little evidence that international workers are leaving the Netherlands because of the coronavirus epidemic, but fewer people are arriving, experts and organisations working with expats have told DutchNews.

International schools say that while a few people have been called back to base, families are not packing up and leaving on a large scale and pupil numbers are steady.

And while some housing agencies have said they have more property on their books, it is very unclear how much of this is due to people leaving, and how much to tougher regulations on holiday rentals.

‘It is very hard to get a grip on,’ says Deborah Valentine, executive director of Access, a volunteer organisation which helps new arrivals settle into the Netherlands and which runs help desks on behalf of the local authorities in The Hague, Amsterdam and Utrecht.

‘I keep hearing that expats are leaving, but I have not seen any real evidence that this is true.’ Figures from the national statistics agency CBS do not show that people are leaving the Netherlands in large numbers either.

Between the start of the coronavirus crisis in February and the beginning of August, the number of American nationals in the Netherlands went down by less than 1,000 to 46,364.

The Italian, British and Belgian populations stayed around the same, while the Indian community actually grew by around 500 to 57,530. Officials in The Hague, Eindhoven and Amsterdam who help international workers deal with their paperwork say they are not aware that large numbers of people are leaving, although the number of new arrivals slowed to a trickle at the height of the pandemic.

New arrivals

‘In April and May it was very slow and we helped 10% of the people we helped in 2019,’ says Sietske van Tuin, director of Amsterdam city council’s international welcome centre IN Amsterdam.

‘In June it started picking up again, and we are now at 50% of last year. The people who were supposed to come in the spring are arriving now instead.’

‘Some people who were due to come in the spring had to delay, but their paperwork has been completed and they are arriving now. It may be that some companies are not recruiting at the moment, but some certainly are.’

Nevertheless, the lockdown has made it difficult to bring people into the Netherlands because it was harder to finalise paperwork and find a place to live, when everything had to be done virtually.


‘It is not that people are leaving, it is just difficult for people to arrive,’ says Charlotta Bjuvling, account manager at global relocation company Sirva. ‘Companies are being careful about new assignments and they are taking much longer as well, because the rules keep changing and everything has to be done online.’

In addition, each relocation is now taking more time because we want to be sure people are comfortable, she says. ‘In a way, our consultants have been the main point of physical contact for new arrivals.

After all, it is very strange to move to a new country and then to have to work in isolation at home. You can’t go out and make friends in the same way anymore either.’


Another indication that expats are staying put are developments on the mortgage market which show international workers are still extremely keen to buy. ‘Expat Mortgages had its best ever month in July, helping 20% more people buy their own home,’ says company founder Henk Jansen.

‘We have not seen any sign that people are leaving.’ Estate agent Mie-Lan Kok, who specialises in helping internationals buy a house, says she too has not noticed any downturn in clients.

‘I’m surprised about what I am hearing on the news,’ she said. ‘So many people are asking to buy a home… of course some people are going, but they already planned to either return home or go on to a new posting.’

Nevertheless, the long-term impact on relocation remains difficult to assess. ‘More people are working from home and this means companies can recruit people who don’t want to move,’ says IN Amsterdam’s Sietske van Tuin.

Long term

Economists expect the impact of coronavirus on employment levels to be felt in the final months of the year and into 2021, although the Dutch unemployment rate is already rising.

Hotel booking website, which has a workforce of 5,500 in Amsterdam, has already said it will reduce the size of its global staff base. Worst affected companies are likely to be those in the hospitality, events and tourism sectors, where coronavirus restrictions have had a major impact.

By contrast, the IT sector, which employs a large number of international workers, is forecast to benefit.



Confusion over rules as 30 pupils at one school test positive for coronavirus

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Standing outside Spinoza Lyceum in the south of Amsterdam, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was 2019. Many of the secondary school’s 1,280 pupils congregate en masse for lunch break.

Some stand in small groups; others devour sandwiches. But none are social distancing. And that’s because they don’t have to. Yet, according to new figures released on Friday, 30 pupils at the school have tested positive for coronavirus, as have members of staff.

But school continues non the less, with few concessions to the virus. In the Netherlands, the national rules for school pupils are clear. ‘Young people aged 13 until 18 years old … do not have to stay 1.5 metres apart from each other, but they do need to keep their distance from others (adults),’ read the rules on the website of public health institute.

‘This applies to all pupils in secondary schools, regardless of their age.’ As pupils returned to school last month in full pre-coronavirus numbers, some found this lack of social distancing among themselves, the crowded hallways, no face masks and no kind of staggered education worrying.

‘It’s just like it used to be before corona,’ says 10th-grader Sophie Petrovic, who attends Spinoza Lyceum.’I am nervous about catching corona. Sometimes there are people next to me, in front of me, behind me and everywhere. That can’t really be normal.’

Despite a five-fold increase in Covid-19 infections among children aged 15-19 over the summer, the RIVM says its advice is based on facts. ‘We do a lot of monitoring and research into not only is this age group getting the virus, but how important they are in its transmission,’ says RIVM spokeswoman Marlies Hilhorst.

‘And we don’t think they contribute to distributing the virus among the population. From our data looking at the ages and cases in the Netherlands, it’s the next group up, the 20-40-year-olds, who are the main transmitters.’

That would explain why colleges and universities are mostly online. But for the high schoolers, it’s a bit of anything goes—even in the same city.

Different rules

Maaike Brouwer’s two teenage children attend different Amsterdam high schools: 17-year-old Mees goes to Vossius Gymnasium while 14-year-old Mare attends the Amsterdams Lyceum.

‘There are totally different rules for the two schools,’ says Brouwer. ‘The Vossius doesn’t have many rules—no facemasks, no hand gel and the canteen is open and you can buy food and eat it there.

But Amsterdams Lyceum is stricter. All kids must go outside during the breaks, even in the rain! The canteen is closed, and students must wear facemasks in the hallways and have hand gel in their bags.’

After her youngest son had a coronavirus scare and the whole family went into mandatory quarantine until his test came back negative, the family took up where it left off.

‘I’m not worried,’ says Brouwer, who had just received word from Amsterdams Lyceum that a student had tested positive for the virus. ‘I think the government knows what it’s doing.

I have confidence in them. I’m more worried about my older mother and my neighbour, but not so much the kids.’


‘I think the government is handling it perfectly,’ says 16-year-old Mara Waalvis from Geert Groote College in Amsterdam Zuid.

She says wearing face masks could help. But she’s not wearing one. ‘If we had to, I would, like on public transportation,’ she says. “But I don’t wear a face mask because there’s no rule for it.’

While she’s not worried about getting sick, she is worried for her teachers. ‘What is safe?’ asks Violeta Veljkovic, a German teacher at the Spinoza. ‘We have to disinfect our hands, and we have a plastic divider between us and the students to help stay 1.5 metres apart, but we’re not obliged to wear masks in class.

I do everything I can to protect myself, but you have to live your life. Life has to go on.’ The Amsterdam public health board says it doesn’t give out the numbers of those infected at secondary schools unless it concerns public health.

But the Spinoza Lyceum says the number of infections has recently increased more than it expected. Even the cook at the school’s cafeteria tested positive for the virus, causing the temporary shutdown of the canteen. But the school has not closed, and that is down to the calculated balance that students, teachers, parents and governments worldwide are grappling with for the 2020/21 school season.


In the Netherlands, the calculation for dealing with students and staff who have tested positive for Covid-19 goes like this: anyone who has been closer than 1.5 meters to an infected person for more than 15 minutes must go into quarantine, along with their family.

‘I understand the logic,’ says Alexandra Middag, whose son Romain is in his third year at HLZ, where students must wear face masks in communal areas and walk single file in the hallways.

They are also advised to bring packed lunches to school to avoid going to the supermarket during breaks. ‘I think they are trying to protect teachers, minimize risks and contain the number of those infected,’ Middag says.

‘But I think to be effective, the rules should be the same inside and outside of school.’


And therein may lie the contradiction for the students themselves. As the number of corona cases spikes in The Netherlands, high school students continue to gather and party in large numbers, whether in their homes or on the school playground.

One teen, who doesn’t want to use her name, explained why she plans on attending an 18th birthday party with an expected crowd of 40. ‘I just find it very weird for the government to decide you can only have a maximum of six people in a house, but then letting all the schools in Amsterdam open with a lot of children,’ she says.

‘We’re at school with these kids all day long, sitting 30 in a class, and no one is cleaning where they sit. Even if I don’t go to the party, I’ll be back at school with the kids who did go on Monday. And of course, there’s the government’s own rule: no social distancing needed under 18.’



Father and sons, suspected of quadruple shooting, face life in jail

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Three men who shot dead four others at a cannabis cultivation supply shop in Enschede in November 2018 should be jailed for life, the public prosecution department told judges in Almelo on Friday.

The three, all Serbian nationals who live in the Netherlands, should be given life sentences because they shot the others in cold blood and had planned to do so, the public prosecutor said.

The suspects, a father and his two sons, killed their victims by shots to the head. This was a ‘cold blooded execution,’ prosecutor Aidan van Veen said during Friday’s hearing, broadcaster NOS reported.

The four victims were found in a property on an industrial estate in Enschede which was home to a company selling equipment for growing plants. It later emerged that two of the victims were being investigated by police in connection with the seizure of 17 kilos of marijuana on the premises earlier in the year.

One of the men was a sales rep for a plant feed company who was ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’. The motive for the killing has still not been established but money may have been behind it.

One of the victims was known to have had €8,000 with him at the time of the shootings but that money has never been found, and he was the first to be shot, NOS said. He may also have had a financial conflict with the suspects, the Telegraaf reported.

The court will give its verdict on November 6. Currently in the Netherlands, life sentences mean just that, but cases will be assessed after 25 years for possible release.

There are currently around 30 prisoners serving life sentences in Dutch prisons, including several gangland murderers and Mohammed Bouyeri, who murdered filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004.



Justice minister is fined for breaking coronavirus rules at wedding after all

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus, who was caught breaking social distancing rules at his recent wedding, has been given a fine by the public prosecution service after all.

Grapperhaus has been fined €390 because this will ‘enhance the credibility’ of the enforcement of the rules, given that the minister is head of the department charged with making sure they are complied with, the department said in a statement.

Grapperhaus was faced with a vote of no confidence after photographs showing him standing next to guests, apparently shaking hands with one, were published in the Dutch media.

He survived the vote, but admitted his reputation had been severely dented. Grapperhaus said he would respect the department’s decision and pay the fine. ‘If the department says the rules have been broken and I have to pay a fine, then that is the case,’ he said.

The minister will now have a formal criminal record, as does everyone who is fined more than €99 for an offence. However, this is a controversial issue and ministers have agreed to MPs’ demands that they look again at the way a fine for breaking social distancing rules automatically results in a criminal record.

Thousands of people have been given a fine of €390 for breaking the social distancing rules and several thousand have already begun appeals. Having a criminal record makes it difficult for people to get a certificate of good behaviour (VOG), which is required in many jobs.



Nearly 2,000 people test positive for coronavirus in 24 hours: Dutch officials

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – A total of 1,977 positive coronavirus tests were registered with the public health institute RIVM in the 24 hours to 10am, the agency said on Friday afternoon.

This is the highest number of positive tests on a single day since the pandemic hit the Netherlands, and the fourth day in a row that a new record has been set. At the same time, however, the number of hospital admissions is low, rising by just 12 overnight.

A further seven people have died. Nevertheless, officials are worried that the sharp rise in infections will lead to an increase in hospitalisations and deaths in the coming days, as the virus spreads from young adults to their older relations.

Most new cases were in Amsterdam, where 361 new positive tests were recorded overnight, taking the infection rate to 9.7 per 10,000 in the Dutch capital.

Prime minister Mark Rutte and health minister Hugo de Jonge will hold a press conference at 7pm outlining new regional measures to try to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

These are widely expected to include a 1am closing time for cafes and bars and a 50-person limit on numbers.



The sense of urgency about coronavirus must return, says Dutch PM

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Coronavirus had become irrelevant and too far removed from many people, prime minister Mark Rutte told reporters at a press conference on Friday amid mounting concern about rising infection rates.

Speaking as the number of positive tests in the past 24 hours neared 2,000, Rutte said that keeping to the basic rules for preventing the spread of the virus is becoming more difficult.

‘Places of work are becoming busier, people want to meet each other and have fun,’ he said. ‘But over 10% of infections are via work. And there is a reason why we are telling people to work at home as much as possible.’

But it was not the measures and the intelligent lockdown which got coronavirus under control the first-time round, Rutte said. ‘It was our behaviour and our motivation to keep to the rules.

And that sense of urgency has to come back.’ Although hospitalisations remain at a low rate, the first patients have been moved to other hospitals to ensure that regular treatment, such as for heart and cancer patients, can go ahead, Rutte said.

The crucial R ratio, which shows how many people each coronavirus patient infects, is now at 1.4, he said. If the number of infections continue to increase at this pace, in three weeks, there will be 10,000 infections a day, Rutte told reporters.

And while youngsters may not develop serious symptoms in the main, ‘on Saturday they go to the supermarket and on Sunday they visit grandma,’ Rutte pointed out.

Phase 2

Health minister Hugo de Jonge described the current situation as extremely worrying. The 25 health regions have been divided into three categories, and while 19 are still at phase 1, six are in phase 2 and that requires extra measures, he said.

More regions may well be added to phase 2 in the coming days, he said. In particular, the number of clusters associated with cafes and bars is increasing, De Jonge said.

For this reason, they will have to close their doors at midnight and turn on the lights, so that everyone has left by 1am. While cafes and bars have done a great job so far, the tripling of the infection rate makes it crucial to take action, Rutte said.

‘If it is late in the evening and people have had a drink, it is much harder to keep to the social distancing rules. We really hope that this measure will be sufficient.’ ‘We have to get back to that intrinsic feeling that [combating coronavirus] is crucial,’ Rutte said.

Friday evening’s main points:


The measures apply to six regions, which together encompass Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Haarlem, Leiden, Delft, and Utrecht.

In these regions, cafes, restaurants, and bars must close their doors at midnight, turn on the lights and put out the music. Everyone must have gone home by 1am. The maximum number of people allowed in cafes and bars, and other formal occasions, will be limited to 50, apart from for demonstrations, funerals, schools and religious meetings.

Gatherings of more than 50 people – such as a concert in a park – must be registered with the authorities. Takeaway food outlets must close at 2am and stop selling alcohol at 1am.

Local officials are also talking to student organisations and universities about supplementary measures. Other regions may be added to the list of six in the coming days.

Mayors in the six areas where measures have been stepped up, are announcing their own plans.

Amsterdam and Rotterdam

Extra focus on hygiene rules in shops, sport club canteens and in cafes and restaurants, including hand disinfectant and a return to floor markings. More enforcement by police and wardens.

In shops, baskets and trolleys will again be disinfected Public institutions, such as libraries and swimming pools will have special opening times for the elderly and vulnerable people with health conditions.

Shops and museums will be asked to do the same. Parks will be closed at night to stop illegal parties taking place.

The Hague region (including Delft)

Public institutions, such as libraries and swimming pools will have special opening times for the elderly and vulnerable people with health conditions.

Shops and museums will be asked to do the same. More dialogue with student groups and sports clubs as well as religious communities about adhering to the rules Better enforcement


Dialogue with sport and business organisations, educational institutes, student organisations, welfare groups and social workers to see what more can be done. Kennemerland (Haarlem) and Midden Nederland (Leiden) not yet online.



EncroChat messages reveal at least ten cases of ‘bent coppers’ leaking info

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The investigation into millions of messages between criminals via encrypted service provider EncroChat has also yielded proof of police corruption and a special team has been tasked with the prosecution of the officers involved, police have said.

Officials have not yet said how many police officers are involved and at what level, but at least two have been arrested following the EncroChat operation. Sources cited by the Telegraaf say 10 serious cases involving the leak of information to criminals are currently being investigated.

The search also yielded information about a network of lawyers, real estate brokers and notaries whose services helped criminals launder money, they said. Police did confirm information had been leaked to criminals but would not say more for operational reasons.

The sheer volume of messages – over 20 million – that have to be followed up must be dealt with meticulously to avoid false claims of corruption, police said. However, the first signs are serious enough to warrant a special team, police chief Henk van Essen said.

‘We have started a number of prosecutions and more will follow. The information on drug deals and money laundering as well as the corruption in the force have been given the highest priority.’

Van Essen said that there have always been ‘bent coppers’ but the fact that their number is increasing is worrying. ‘A policeman can become corrupt through blackmail but can also simply be bought,’ Van Essen said.

‘Information is a goldmine for criminals. It can be anything from information on current investigations and people to addresses and cars. They are always on the lookout for people with access to this type of information, not only in the force but in companies as well.’

Software to flag up suspicious search behaviour by officers will be introduced next year, Van Essen said. ‘But we don’t want to check each and every email or app. We want a system built on trust but we must be realistic. There is corruption and we want to stamp it out. And an operation like EncroChat shows that no one is beyond the reach of the law.’



King and queen get a 5% pay rise, Amalia will ‘earn’ €111,000 in December 2021

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – King Willem-Alexander and queen Maxima will get a 5% pay rise next year, taking their combined income from the state to €7.2m, broadcaster NOS said on Thursday, on the basis of the 2021 budget.

Crown princess Amalia, who turns 18 next December, will also be given an allowance of €111,000 that month, and €1.6m in 2022, NOS said. Currently, members of the royal family receive a tax-free salary and are not required to pay gift or inheritance tax.

Prime minister Mark Rutte has repeatedly defended the royals’ tax-free status, arguing that ‘a deal is a deal’. The taxpayer also picks up the bill for security, rebuilding palaces and the former queen’s yacht De Groene Draeck.

The Dutch royal family is considered to be the most expensive in Europe, and costs the taxpayer some €40m a year, excluding security.



Lelystad airport expansion has cost €214m so far, and no commercial flight has landed

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – No commercial aircraft have yet landed there, but the expansion of Lelystad airport has already cost €214m, according to research by local broadcaster Omroep Flevoland and investigative website Follow the Money.

The figure includes the cost of the construction projects and infrastructure needed to turn the minor airfield into one capable of dealing charter traffic, as well as the cost of research and civil service support.

A large part of the money – €90.7m – has come from the Schiphol airport group, which owns Lelystad and has invested in a new terminal and extending the runways.

Nearly €33m has come from national government, including some €7m which has been spent on feasibility and environmental impact reports, and €9m on support staff.

The Dutch air traffic control service has also put €26.4m into navigation systems and incorporating the airport into national airspace plans.

The airport even has a team of air traffic controllers who have been working at the airport since November last year, even though there are not yet any commercial flights. It also has a team of firemen on hand.


Infrastructure minister Cora van Niewenhuizen told MPs earlier this month that she has no plans to delay the opening of Lelystad to commercial traffic at the end of next year, despite the impact of coronavirus on the aviation industry.

The government had hoped to open Lelystad to holiday traffic in 2020 and so allow Schiphol to focus on more lucrative intercontinental flights. The expansion plans have also led to major protests by people who will be affected by low-flying planes.

In addition, last year it emerged that the noise calculations for local residents were wrong and that people will suffer far more aircraft nuisance than expected.



Budget 2021: ‘little alternative to boosting spending’ say the morning papers

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – There is little criticism of the government’s 2021 spending plans in the morning papers, with most approving of the decision to keep on spending to head off the impact of coronavirus. With one eye on next year’s elections, they say, there is little else ministers can do.

Financieele Dagblad

The Financieele Dagblad headlines its editorial ‘investing is good, more investing is better’, and highlights the ‘sober’ position the government’s finances are now in, given the Netherlands had a budget surplus of €14bn at the end of last year.

‘But no-one is talking about making cuts and putting up taxes, now that coronavirus has plunged the Netherlands into an economic crisis of unheard off proportions,’ the paper says.

The government’s decision to boost spending to drive economic growth is supported by several key advisors, including the CPB and the president of the Dutch central bank, the paper points out.

However, the new €20bn investment fund looks pretty stingy when compared with Germany (€130bn) and France (€100bn), the paper says. ‘This crisis, the worst in almost 100 years, may well demand more ambition from The Hague.’

Let us be clear about this,’ the paper says. ‘Hankering after Dutch thriftiness, can cost the country dear.’


‘We are really going to feel the crisis,’ the Telegraaf warns on its front page, coupled with a quote from king Willem-Alexander about how strong the country is. And in an editorial, the paper says the government’s strategy for coping with the financial impact of coronavirus is a ‘sensible’ one.

The Netherlands can permit itself to increase the national debt to over 60% of GDP, the paper said, pointing to the situation in Italy, Greece and ‘even Belgium’. This sensible strategy will allow the Netherlands to absorb the worst of the blows, the paper said.

‘It underlines once again that our country should not be bothered by EU countries that in recent years have been guilty of cowardly choices and financial mismanagement,’ the paper said. ‘Solidarity is not a one-way street.


The Volkskrant’s headline reads ‘spending money without a care, despite speech concerns’, illustrated by a photo of prime minister Mark Rutte and health minister Hugo de Jonge smiling at each other across the Grote Kerk floor.

Referring to the sunshine on this ‘remarkable budget day’, the paper says in its editorial that ‘rising expectations and falling economic prospects form a flammable combination.’

The FNV is demanding a 5% pay rise and the ‘healthcare heroes’ also want more money, the paper says. ‘And why not, you may ask, given that money appears to grow on trees’.

‘But we do not know what the future will bring and it is better to keep our financial buffers. The cabinet must manage expectations and that is going to be a real challenge in an election year.’


Trouw says the government is ‘notably positive’ in both the king’s speech and in the 2021 budget. The paper carries an interview with prime minister Mark Rutte in which he says he is not worried about the criticism of his crisis strategy, partly because public confidence in politicians is at a high.

‘The cabinet and opposition have shown that we can tackle this crisis together,’ he said. ‘Of course there is criticism, and demonstrations. They are part of democracy. ‘


The AD focuses on the cabinet’s decision to ‘let the money roll’. ‘This cabinet is seizing its last opportunity to prove itself,’ the paper says, in a reference to next March’s general election.

‘Despite the coronavirus crisis, Rutte’s third cabinet is trying to complete its mission, which is evidence that the political midfield still has a role.’ ‘At the moment this cabinet can smother criticism by spending,’ the paper said.

‘And even including the cost of the third support package, the national debt will remain among the lowest in Europe.’ ‘But the cabinet is gambling that there will not be a second coronavirus wave’ which will severely impact on both economic growth and unemployment, the paper said.

‘And with a general election ahead of us, everyone is hoping that a more gloomy economic forecast will not be necessary’


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