Soualiga Newsday Focus

Soualiga Newsday Focus (2021)

Stay home this weekend, Dutch prime minister urges

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has urged people to stay home this weekend, in contrast to last weekend when crowded beaches and parks caused outrage.

Now the rules have been clarified, everyone should stay home apart from to do essential shopping or get some fresh air, Rutte said. ‘After all, if you live in a little flat with children and without a garden or balcony you will get fed up,’ the prime minister said.

‘They should be able to go out for a bit.’ Under the new rules, everyone must keep 1.5 metres from others, and police have the power to fine groups of three or more people who break the rules up to €400 each. Families with children do not have to comply with the 1.5 metre rule.



Coronavirus death toll rises, obese corona patients dominate in intensive care

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The death toll from coronavirus in the Netherlands rose by 93 to 639 on Saturday, the public health institute RIVM said in its latest update.

The number of positive tests for the virus rose by 1,159 to 9,762 while nearly 3,000 people have been, or are still hospitalised, the RIVM said. The rise in hospital admissions and in intensive care patients continues to increase at a slower pace than would have been expected if measures had not been taken, the RIVM said.

And the health institute said again that if this situation continues for a few more days, officials will be able to confirm whether or not the social distancing and other government measures have having an effect.

Noord-Brabant province remains accountable for the biggest share of the positive tests, with around 27% of the total, the RIVM figures show. But in Zuid-Holland province in particular, the number of hospital admissions is rising faster than in other provinces, the RIVM said.


Meanwhile, Diederik Gommers, chairman of the Dutch intensive care association, told television talk show Jinek on Friday evening that 66% to 80% of corona patients on intensive care wards that he had seen are overweight.

The reason has not yet been investigated, but Gommers said it could be linked to the prevalence of diabetes among obese people, which would make them more vulnerable to the virus.

In addition, the extra weight can also make breathing more difficult, he said. A specialist on the programme gave a similar picture.

‘Almost all the patients on an IC ward are overweight,’ Peter van der Voort of Groningen University’s teaching hospital said. ‘We don’t know why, but it is very noticeable.’


As the number of hospital admissions continues to rise, efforts are continuing to expand the number of intensive care beds.

Philips has delivered 100 new respirators and patient monitoring systems to the Netherlands, out of a total order of 1,000 each, health minister Martin van Rijn said on Twitter.

The rest of the order, which originated in the US, will be delivered in the coming weeks, the minister said. The arrival of the new machinery will allow the number of intensive care beds in Dutch hospitals to be expanded.



No fines for small groups – if you are 1.5 metres apart, officials confirm

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Claims in several Dutch newspapers that people face fines for being in groups of more than two, even if they are 1.5 metres apart, are not correct, officials have confirmed.

The RTL, AD and other websites said on Thursday that experts from the 25 Dutch public safety regions had agreed to introduce fines for all groups of more than two people, unless they were family or children.

But officials have now confirmed that fines of up to €350 per person will only be imposed on groups who do not keep the regulation 1.5 metres distance from each other.

‘A group of people running together would be acceptable as long as they were all 1.5 metres apart,’ Nijmegen mayor Hubert Bruls, who chairs the regional safety council, told Radio 1.

‘You can go for a walk with your partner, although it is better not to do it. We are talking about groups and we define a group as more than two people, unless you are keeping 1.5 metres distance.’ Police and street wardens have the power to issue the fines.



Dutch coronavirus death toll rises by 112, IC patients reach 761

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The number of people who died from coronavirus in the Netherlands rose overnight by 112 to 546, according to the latest update from the RIVM public health institute.

The number of positive tests hit 8,603 and 2,500 people have been or are being treated in hospital, the RIVM said. ‘As on Thursday, the number of hospital admissions and the number of people dying is increasing less quickly than it would have done without measures,’ the RIVM said.

‘If this continues for a few more days we will be able to conclude whether or not the measures which have been taken, such as social distancing and washing hands, is working.’

While most cases continue to be identified in Noord-Brabant, the number of positive tests in Zuid-Holland and Noord-Holland is rising relatively fast, the RIVM said.


The Netherlands is currently only testing people who are being admitted to hospital and healthcare workers for the virus, because of a shortage of test material. However, from Monday officials say they will be able to expand the testing base because laboratories at Wageningen University will be able to carry out 1,500 tests a day.

Currently some 2,000 tests are being carried out in the Netherlands on a daily basis, health minister Hugo de Jonge said earlier this week.

Intensive care

Although Dutch officials say they will have enough intensive care beds available for coronavirus patients, Germany has said it is prepared to take in some Dutch patients if necessary, broadcaster NOS said on Friday.

The Netherlands had 1,150 intensive care beds nationwide, but that is being ramped up to cope with the surge of coronavirus cases.



Coronavirus will have major impact, recession into 2021 likely: CPB

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – In a worst-case scenario the coronavirus crisis could plunge the Dutch economy into deep depression, with GDP declining by up to 7.7%, the government’s macro-economic think-tank CPB said on Thursday.

The CPB has analysed four scenarios for the impact of coronavirus on the economy in 2020 and 2021, based on the duration of restrictions on physical contact and the severity of the economic impact.

All four scenarios result in recession, with GDP declining by between 1.2% and 7.7% in 2020, the CPB said. Under three of the four scenarios, the economic downturn will be more severe than in the 2008–2009 crisis, when GDP fell by 3.7%.

‘The measures to contain the spread of the virus are necessary, but these will obviously also have a profound impact on the economy,’ CPB chief Pieter Hasekamp, said.

While much remains uncertain, ‘the longer the restrictions on physical contact remain in place and continue to deepen their impact, the greater the likelihood of problems in the financial system and of a deeper recession in other countries,’ Hasekamp said. This in turn, he said will further delay economic recovery.


In the mildest scenario, unemployment will increase only slightly in 2021, but in the most serious, it is projected to increase to 9.4%. ‘Government policy is aimed at limiting lay-offs and bankruptcies,’ Hasekamp said.

The Dutch unemployment rate is currently hovering around 3%. ‘This is projected to prevent both a downward spiral and permanent economic damage,’ Hasekamp said, adding that government support will only be able to partially soften the blow.

Government debt

The emergency measures to support the economy will cause a sharp deterioration in public finances, under all scenarios, the CPB said. Nevertheless, there will not be a direct risk to the level of government debt, the CPB said.

‘Even under the worst-case scenario, by the end of 2021, the debt will be 73.6% of GDP, which is still far removed from levels identified as risky in the literature.’ MPs on Wednesday backed finance minister Wopke Hoekstra’s package of measures to help companies which have been hit by the restrictions on personal contact.

Hoekstra made a ‘moral appeal’ to companies not to misuse the compensation agreements, but said some abuse is unavoidable, given the speed at which the measures are being brought in. The package is expected to cost €15bn in the first three months of 2020 alone.



Over 1,000 more positive corona tests, death total reaches 434

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The number of people testing positive for coronavirus in the Netherlands rose by 1,019 overnight to 7,431, the public health institute RIVM said in its Thursday update.

The number of deaths rose by 78 to 434, the RIVM said. In total, 2,151 people have been or are currently hospitalised, a rise of 315 on Wednesday. The RIVM said the hospitalisation rate and the number of deaths is rising more slowly than they would have done if the government had not introduced measures to keep people apart.

The impact of social distancing will be more visible at the end of the week or early next week, the health institute said. Noord-Brabant continues to have the most positive tests, with 2,161 but Zuid-Holland and Noord-Holland both now have over 1,000 positive cases.

Friesland and Drenthe have fewest cases – just 71 and 72 respectively. Meanwhile, health minister Hugo de Jonge has told parliament that the Netherlands will have enough intensive care beds for the expected peak in demand on April 1.

The Netherlands is scaling up its provision from 1,150 IC beds to 1,600, of which 575 are reserved for non-corona patients, De Jonge said. Some 40 IC patients in Brabant are being moved to other hospitals in the Netherlands where there is more capacity today.

In addition, 20,000 former doctors and nurses have also come forward to say they are willing to jump in and help if it becomes necessary.



The WHO says test, test, test. So what is the Dutch strategy?

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The World Health Organisation sees testing as a key strategy to combat coronavirus. So why are the Dutch only focusing on testing people with serious symptoms and hospital staff?

What does the WHO actually say?

The organisation’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said several times that ‘testing, testing, testing‘ is key to public health efforts as well as individual concerns.

Experts do suggest that widespread diagnostic testing, plus contact tracing and quarantining those contacts, may have been key in South Korea’s suppression of the virus.

What is the official Dutch policy on testing?

‘At the moment tests are being carried out on people with serious symptoms so that healthcare workers know if they have coronavirus or not and how they should be treated,’ Chantal Reusken, a virologist with the public health institute RIVM, told the Volkskrant.

Healthcare workers are also being tested to make sure they do not spread the disease. In front-line services, it is up to family doctors to decide if someone should be tested, and priority is given to the elderly and people with other serious health problems, according to the RIVM protocol.

Is there a shortage of testing material?

The shortage is not of people or machinery but of basic lab equipment such as pipettes and test tube racks, as well as key chemicals to break open cells during the test itself, according to the Volkskrant.

The lockdown in China also led to supplies drying up. The test capacity in the Netherlands is 9,000 a day, spread across 34 different labs. ‘But that is without shortages,’ Chantal Reusken told the Volkskrant.

So far, the Dutch have carried out 23,000 tests. A spokesman for the RIVM told broadcaster RTL Nieuws that the Netherlands is carrying out plenty of tests. ‘We don’t think the WHO is targeting us,’ the spokesperson said. ‘We are carrying out some 2,000 tests a day.’

So why are they able to carry out more tests in Norway and Germany?

It is, says the Volkskrant, mainly down to the market, established buying strategies and agreements which countries have made with suppliers and labs. In addition, some countries are lucky because manufacturers need a testing ground, virologist Marion Koopmans told the Volkskrant.

According to broadcaster NOS, Germany has capacity to carry out 200,000 tests a week and is currently testing 160,000 people. In Germany doctors decide who to test and the guidelines are not as strict as in the Netherlands.

Worth noting, the population of Germany is five times that of the Netherlands. Others argue it is too early to comment on the relatively low death rate in Germany so far.

In addition, experts told the Guardian the mortality rate in Germany may rise in the coming weeks as high-risk areas become harder to identify and testing capacity is stretched. Other countries, including the US, have adopted a similar strategy to the Netherlands.

What about self-testing kits?

There are a lot of kits out there, but experts recommend against them for a variety of reasons. Firstly, if the cells are not scraped properly, the test could give the wrong result.

Secondly, the tests may fail to identify the COVID-19 version correctly. The RIVM stresses that the tests, which it says are for rapid results rather than self-testing, should only be used by professionals. Health inspectors have also recommended against self-testing.

Is the strategy the same nationwide?

No. The four northern provinces Groningen, Drenthe, Friesland and Overijssel are planning to step up the rate of testing for Covid-19. Alex Friedrich, a microbiologist at the UMCG teaching hospital in Groningen, told De Groene Amsterdammer this week that the region was ‘departing from the national policy’ of only testing patients when they start to show symptoms.

So far there have been relatively few cases in the north, allowing contacts to be more easily traced, as was the strategy in Brabant at the start of the outbreak. Friedrich told the magazine he rejected claims that testing rates were low because not enough testing kits were available.

‘I’ve never understood why people keep insisting that this is the case. We don’t have a problem with capacity. Sometimes a particular lab has a shortage of particular materials, but that’s business as usual, you can fix that,’ he said.

Health minister Hugo de Jonge, however, maintains that there is a shortage of testing capacity. Guidelines are currently being worked out which everyone will have to stick to, he said.



Red Cross deploys 70,000 volunteers to help people in self-isolation

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Red Cross has urged elderly and vulnerable people living in self-isolation with coronavirus to call its hotline if they need help with shopping or social contact.

The organisation has increased its number of volunteers from 40,000 to 70,000 to cope with the extra demand. It also launched a hotline a week ago for people struggling with day to day tasks, particularly those living alone and are required to stay indoors.

‘That could be a phone call, but also walking the dog or picking up medicines,’ said a spokesman. The Red Cross has taken 12,000 calls from concerned citizens since it launched its hotline on March 16.

“A lot of people are calling with practical questions over things like shopping, but some callers just want a listening ear,’ said the spokesman. The helpline has also taken calls from people concerned about the welfare of relatives who live far away and are out of reach.

‘If your aunt lives in Assen and you’re in Vlissingen, we can well imagine that you’d appreciate somebody keeping an eye on her for the next while,’ Red Cross director Marieke van Schaik told AD.

‘Or you might be sick and sitting in quarantine but worried about your neighbour with a physical disability a few houses away.’



Corona may well cause a recession, consumer spending shifts

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The coronavirus crisis is likely to lead to economic recession, Pieter Hasekamp, the new chief of the government’s macro-economic policy think-tank CPB has told the Telegraaf in an interview.

‘We are still managing, but a recession is virtually unavoidable,’ Hasekamp told the paper. At the beginning of March, the CPB put 2020 economic growth at 1.4% but said at the time if coronavirus spread, growth would be 0.9% if not less.

‘Even if it only lasts a few months, if things continue to decline as sharply as they are doing now, then growth will be negative,’ Hasekamp said. ‘At the moment health is the most important issue, but it would be strange not to be concerned about the economic impact as well.’

‘At the moment, the uncertainties are fundamental,’ he said. ‘It is not about economic but about epidemiological factors. And that is why we are not making new forecasts.’

The think-tank has now been drawing up new scenarios and the first results of that research will be published on Thursday, the Telegraaf said.

Pin transactions

Meanwhile, ING economists have published an analysis of consumer spending using direct debit (pin) cards last Thursday, which shows the major shift which is underway.

Spending on public transport was down 80%, while spending on toys, DIY products and food rose 16%, 20% and 7% respectively, the analysis showed. Spending in cafes and bars, which are now closed, fell 81%, with only takeaway services providing respite.

In total, the number of transactions using pin cards last Thursday was down 21% on the same day in 2019.

Pay deals

The coronavirus crisis has also called a halt to a number of pay negotiations, according to employers’ advisory group AWVN. In particular, the logistics, construction and hair dressing sectors now risk being without a pay deal.

‘These are normally busy months with dozens of new deals,’ a spokesman told the Telegraaf. ‘But there is no employer at the moment who wants to make long term financial commitments.’



Coronavirus symptoms start for start-up businesses

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – New businesses are under threat from the coronavirus shutdown, leading organisations have warned. The Dutch Startup Association (DSA), which represents entrepreneurs in the Netherlands, has written to all members of parliament asking for urgent measures to support start-ups.

Co-working spaces have warned that monthly memberships are being cancelled, alongside lucrative events bookings, while their long-term tenants are asking for a temporary stop on their rent – which the organisations cannot afford.

The Dutch government last week announced a package of economic measures to prop up businesses and support sole traders during the crisis – including paying up to 90% of wages and topping up income for freelancers in trouble.

However, start-up firms may not be making any income but depending on investment capital and may not have the right business structure to qualify for the measures, the DSA points out.

It has written to MPs asking them to extend the support ruling to limited companies set up under a DGA structure – where the director has a large proportion of shares – and ensure that the wage support measures do extend to start-ups.

‘The wage support (NOW)…is linked to a reduction in income taxes,’ it points out. ‘Actually, a lot of start-ups are not making money but still have to pay wages while new financing rounds look like they may be postponed…Some employees, like software developers, will also be hired in as sole traders because of a shortage of these highly-qualified people.

It is vital that the start-ups can keep these employees.’


The association also calls for government efforts to boost investment, which is vital for new businesses and to help existing firms scale up. ‘Confidence has dropped dramatically, and investments have been cancelled or put off,’ it adds.

‘This is creating a bottle-neck in the system that means fewer start-ups can grow and that their value drops…For start-ups at the earliest states, it’s important that they have the time and possibilities to get their first products to market, and the better this is done, the greater the chance of success.’

Co-working spaces, which offer relatively cheap and flexible contracts that appeal to start-up businesses, have already taken a hit. People cancelling flexible memberships at the international WeWork have been offered a discounted three-month rate and Thom Wernke, chief executive of the three StartDock spaces, says there are signs of trouble in the market.

‘Last week I spoke to co-working space founders nationally and internationally, to see what we can do together in these strange times,’ he told DutchNews. ‘The current governmental regulations are not sufficient for most start-ups, neither are they for co-working spaces.

What I see within our three spaces and hear from competitors [is that] month-to-month memberships get cancelled, all events and meetings are cancelled [and] many tenants with long-term contracts ask for compensation, freeze of rent or ending of contracts.’


He said that this is creating a dire situation for the spaces, some of which raise 60% of revenue from meetings and events, and which cannot afford ‘special measures’ such as stopping clients’ rent, as they have their own rents to pay.

He warned: ‘The current support of the governments and municipalities is mainly focused on companies that have some company savings. Start-ups are mainly focused on one thing: growth.

Growth costs money, so “spare money” is something no start-up will have. If the government does not act towards these start-ups, a lot of our promising start-ups will go bankrupt.’

Despite the warning, there are some positive developments. The DSA has put out an appeal to its members to see whether their inventions and ideas can pivot, and be put to work against the coronavirus, for example in creating or modifying breathing support equipment.


Meanwhile, University of Amsterdam lecturer in entrepreneurship and innovation Bram Kuijken has launched a free ‘survival challenge’ programme to match start-ups with students who can help them modify their businesses to turn the crisis into an opportunity.

‘I thought: let’s see if we can bring together students and start-ups in trouble,’ he told DutchNews. ‘Normally the challenges are part of a course and we charge companies a couple of hundred euros, but this is free for start-ups in trouble.

So far they include a freelance matching company that matches freelances with jobs in the entertainment industry.’ He appealed for more new businesses to sign up and see whether ideas from students at the University of Amsterdam and Vrije University can help.

A spokesman for D66 said it would look at the DSA’s suggestions: ‘We believe it is important that this economic package is for all types of companies from established businesses such as KLM to ZZP-er sole traders,’ he said.

‘Start-ups would need to show they had income [to qualify].’ Meanwhile the organisation Techleap has launched an online guide in English to help guide young businesses to information and sources of support.


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