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Slaughterhouse workers checked for coronavirus after vet and inspectors test positive

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Local health board officials have begun testing a number of workers at a Helmond slaughterhouse for coronavirus after two local inspectors and a vet were found to have the virus, broadcaster RTL said on Saturday.

Other abattoir officials in Boxtel who work for the Vion meat processing group are also infected with the virus, RTL said, quoting confidential documents.

On Friday, it emerged that all 600 workers at the Vion meat processing plant in Groenlo have been ordered to stay home in quarantine for two weeks because of an outbreak of coronavirus.

The Groenlo plant, which processes organic pork, was closed on Wednesday after 45 people tested positive for the virus. ‘Meat processing is labour intensive and employs a large number of people,’ FNV spokesman John Klijn told current affairs show Nieuwsuur earlier.

‘And the sector is extra vulnerable because 80% of the workforce are migrant workers who live together and travel to work in small buses. If you then spend the day in a place where social distancing is not possible, then you are asking for problems.’

(DutchNews)

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First coronavirus subsidy fraud cases are under investigation: NOS

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Government officials have begun the process of clawing back coronavirus subsidies which were wrongly paid to at least one company, broadcaster NOS said on Saturday.

The RVO, the government charged with administering the various schemes, did not say how many companies were involved or in what sectors they operated, NOS said.

By last Wednesday, 191,000 companies had applied for help under the TOGs scheme, a one-off payment of €4,000, aimed at helping small firms pay their fixed costs.

Of those applications, 181,000 had been honoured with a total payout of €724m, NOS said. The TOGs programme is being extended for a further three months, with a maximum payout of €20,000.

Checks on whether the payment was appropriate will be made later. According to the government’s financial intelligence unit FIU, 34 ‘suspicious transactions’ involving both TOGs and the TOZO scheme for freelancers are currently under investigation.

(DutchNews)

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Dutch government must show more solidarity with hard-hit EU countries: SER

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands must show solidarity with the EU member countries which have been hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis in its own interest and make haste with investment, government policy advisory group SER has said in a report out on Thursday.

Instead of a strict system of loans subject to conditions and reforms, the government should show more leniency and aim for ‘a responsible form of risk sharing’, SER’s Coronacrisis think-tank said.

The think-tank, which includes unions, employers, advisory bodies CPB and SCP and Dutch bank DNB and was set up in March, ‘deviates from the government line’, chairwoman Mariëtte Hamer told the FD.

It is in the Dutch interest to makes sure the southern European countries in particular do not drown in debt and find their way out of the crisis as soon as possible, Hamer said.

‘Our call to the government is to cooperate with other member states.(..) If there is a criticism it is this. Include the other countries in the journey out of this crisis or you will suffer yourself.

Europe is an economic family, so work together where you can.’ The think-tank’s advice echoes the stance of the leader of coalition partner D66 Rob Jetten earlier this week. Jetten criticised what he considers the implacable Dutch attitude to other EU members and made a plea to break open the government accord to allow for further integration.

An accord must be reached quickly on a European budget for 2021 to 2027, Hamer said, which could possibly include the adoption of the recent German-French proposal to make an extra €500bn in bail out funds available.

Alternative

The Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Finland opposed the plan because of a lack of guarantees of reform in the countries concerned. An alternative plan is being worked on by the four which will be presented by the European Commission next week, the FD said.

The think tanks support economic minister Wopke Hoekstra’s move towards ‘anti-cyclical’ investment. The Netherlands must invest itself out of the crisis, Hamer said, and planned investments must be brought forward so the financial sector and the housing market remain unaffected.

The government must make haste to establish a fund worth billions to spend on innovation, infrastructure and education. ‘The Netherlands must be steadfast in carrying out its agenda for growth,’ Hamer said.

(DutchNews)

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Police and wardens issued 18,200 fines by May 10, but half had errors

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – About half the 18,200 fines issued to people for breaking coronavirus rules up to May 10 were not complete and have been sent back to police and local council officials for improvement, the public prosecution department said on Friday.

The fines have been deemed incomplete because they either don’t include a proper description of why they were issued, they miss relevant documents or personal details don’t add up, the department said.

By May 10, 18,200 fines had been issued by wardens and police officers – earlier estimates of 10,000 fines did not include those handed out by local authority wardens.

In 7,400 cases the public prosecution department has upheld the fine and ordered payment, which will result in a criminal record for those involved. A further 207 criminal cases will go to court, mostly involving people who threatened or attacked a police officer, street warden or health service worker.

Most fines have been issued to people who broke social distancing rules or were said to have been part of an illegal group. But much remains unclear who and why people are fined for being with more than two other people.

Prime minister Mark Rutte said at Tuesday’s press conference that it has never been illegal for more than three people to gather together – as long as they keep to 1.5 metres distance.

But many people have been fined because they are in groups – which some wardens and police interpret as being an organised gathering – and which is illegal. Lawyers have been calling on people who have been fined in such circumstances to make a formal protest and not accept the ticket.

By May 10, only 70 people had done so. The fine is €390 for adults aged 18 and over and €95 for the over-12s.

Criminal record

‘I am particularly concerned about the fact that a fine will result in a criminal record,’ lawyer Frank Janzing told Trouw. ‘This means that in the future it could have an impact on an application for a certificate of good behaviour (VOG).’

‘I would urge people to protest about the fines and in my experience, if you do go to court, you are unlikely to be worse off.’ Amsterdam lawyer Justin Kotter, who is dealing with around 100 cases, said he is sure people who appeal have a good chance of wining.

‘Why should my clients, students who live in the same house and had a beer outside get a fine without a warning while a family of five can make a big show of sitting together on the pavement?’ he said.

‘The rules are confusing and random.’ Meanwhile, research by the local health boards and public health institute RIVM shows that fewer people are now keeping strictly to the 1.5 metre rule, particularly when visiting friends and family.

(DutchNews)

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Are we all going on a summer holiday? Ministers are looking at the options

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Ministers are still considering what advice to offer the Dutch about this year’s summer holidays, prime minister Mark Rutte said during Tuesday evening’s press conference.

The current rule in the Netherlands is only to travel abroad if this is strictly necessary but some EU countries, such as Italy and Greece, are making plans to open their borders in the near future.

The cabinet advice, when finalised, will focus on the policy in other countries and on the risk of infection, Rutte said in answer to reporters’ questions. ‘We are also looking if any measures to reduce the risks if people return from a holiday abroad,’ he said.

Official advice

Foreign minister Stef Blok has already been in touch with Italy about the formal travel advice for the popular holiday destination, which remains officially ‘amber’ or essential travel only.

Italy plans to open up to tourism again on June 3. Research by NBTC-NIPO Research earlier this month showed that some 7.2 million people are currently making holiday plans this year, down 39% on last year’s figures.

The survey showed some five million people want to go abroad, a fall of 43% compared to 2019 Germany, France and Spain are traditionally the most popular destinations for Dutch tourists.

Meanwhile, Amsterdam’s mayor Femke Halsema has said she is concerned that the Dutch capital could be a new epicentre of infection if too many tourists visit when the borders do open up.

‘I am sorry if I seem like a wet blanket, but we do have to realise how vulnerable we are,’ Halsema said in a debate with city councillors. It is already difficult enough for the city’s 800,000 residents to keep 1.5 metres distance from each other, without the added problem of thousands of tourists, she said.

‘We must not go all out to stimulate regional, national and international travel,’ she said. ‘If we go overboard, we run the risk of Amsterdam being an epicentre in a second wave.’

Most infections

Figures from the public health institute RIVM show that the province of Zuid-Holland now has the highest rate of new coronavirus infections, followed by Noord-Holland.

Noord-Brabant, where the virus first took hold, appears now to have the spread firmly under control, with just 22 infections in Eindhoven in the week to May 17. Most new infections that week were in Rotterdam (101), Amsterdam (95) and The Hague (73).

(DutchNews)

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The Departure of Patches

SAINT KITTS & NEVIS (COMMENTARY – By Joel B. Liburd) - Team Unity's Minister of Infrastructure (among other things) thinks he's going to get another five years to wreak havoc on poor people, the treasury and good governance; and in no particular order to boot.

It's curious that the Number One constituency seems to always breed an Infrastructure Minister; previously it was the arrogant and soulless Earl Asim Martin, and if the St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party has its way, the torch will next be held by the NextGen newcomer, Dr Geoffrey Hanley. This should surely spell a permanent departure of Patches from the political landscape.

Patches may have been around since Moses was a boy, it seems, but after 18 years of wheeling and dealing his way through the private sector, he decided to go after the public purse instead. His departure from private industry meant that even though he had already made himself a wealthy man, he too was intent on departure from a life of spiritual and moral values, under which his childhood was formed.

Patches saw the departure of Labour, and of his nemesis Martin, and then a departure of law and order in his own consistency, many parts of which are breeding grounds for killers, drug dealers, bandits and rapists. Sadly, it's been almost 21 months since his son, Mickail "Mitch" Liburd, departed this life in a hail of gunfire, in the Pine Gardens area.

Family sources have whispered that it was the third or fourth time that Patches and/or his son were in the way of bullets. The incident, they say, was not an accident, or a misunderstanding. But this time it went too far. Prime Minister Timothy Harris, in offering solace, gave a cryptic quote: "As a trusted colleague and confidant, Patches and I are bound by a special friendship that goes back many years. Our bond is built on our shared patriotism and love of politics, as well as mutual admiration, respect and understanding."

Harris went on to say that his Cabinet "will use every resource at our country's disposal to ensure that the peace, stability and prosperity that our people deserve are always available".

What was even more puzzling was that the murder of the well-known young man pushed our tiny nation's homicide figures into being the fifth deadliest place on earth, per capita. So, in an immediate response, the Prime Minister decided to simply pay killers to not kill. They could keep their arsenal of weapons, but no more spilling of blood. Prime Minister Harris has made a mockery of the Nation's security – short-term solution for political gain.

Is that the best approach he and his and his National Security Adviser can come up with? This is what happens when you have an accountant and an  ex-military fire cracker making national security decisions. The result of this disastrous policy is glaring: while murders dropped, rape, robbery, assault and petty crimes went up. No one seemed concerned. They only cared that the government looked good. Together, Patches and Harris engineered the departure of violent crime from the front pages.

After having so much experience with departures, it's possible that Patches felt emboldened enough to add another "departure" to his bucket list... the Departure Gates at the Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport (RLBIA). And so, not one or two, but SIX times, Patches breached airport security at the Departure gates, frequently flying past bewildered Customs and Immigration officials.

He has refused to be searched and was always carrying a package in his hand, which he never returned with. Sometimes he used the mundane and petulant excuse that he had to return some cheap item to a passenger, but other times, he simply barrelled his way through, like a raging bull, in the quintessential display of "I is de Minister of de airport, and I does sign de paycheck and I own here!" Flabbergasted, officials turned a blind eye, mostly in fear for their jobs. Were it another passenger, he would be a guest of Her Majesty's Prison, listening daily for the chimes of the nearby church clock. But it was Patches, the high and mighty one.

Even his excuse was patchy. After trying to deny the incident ever happened, his lies were eventually revealed by his own Cabinet colleague, Mark Brantley. In October 2019, Brantley revealed that an investigation into several similar breaches by the Minister – in particular, one in April 2019 - had gone to Prime Minister Harris. I'm told the report is now in Harris' bottom desk drawer, and Patches was never reprimanded for his illegal actions, disrespectful behaviour and poor conduct.

How did Patches celebrate getting one up on the Big Man from Nevis? Well, on October 15, 2019 - just a week after Brantley spoke - Patches pushed his way through airport security yet again, entering a restricted area. This time, there was no lying for Liburd, and he was caught on camera.

It is reported that the April security breach led to the downgrading of the Robert L Bradshaw Airport by the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO). The October fiasco resulted in the RLBIA being downgraded by the FAA to a Category Two. Category Two puts our international airport almost on the same level as the taxi stand in Basseterre – minimum security, and you could only ply existing routes, nothing new.

The World Trade Center attack is approaching its 20th anniversary. It was an event that changed the dynamics of air travel permanently. Then Richard "Shoebomber" Reid ensure that we sampled each airport's cold floors with bare feet and sagging pants, as shoes and belts now had to be screened.

Airports are arguably the first and last defence for a country's border security. Any mischief or subversive actions in a country are usually tied to its border control. Terrorists want in, drugs want in, arms and ammunition want in; and it is the humble souls in uniform that thwart the unthinkable, sometimes before it is thought up.

But Patches obviously has other thoughts and he has singlehandedly embarrassed and compromised not only the Federation, but also the entire bloc of the Eastern Caribbean States. Think about the possible implications of his thoughtless, selfish and arrogant behaviour. But more importantly, think of the cavalier manner that his Prime Minister has adopted in dealing with this matter.

Harris' flim-flam attitude reflects an abdication of prime ministerial responsibility and in doing so, he has placed our country in a bad light. The buck stops with Harris. Thus he is ultimately responsible for the action taken against SKN. It means that no new airline would be allowed to fly into SKN, resulting in a loss of revenue for the country. It also mean that our airports would be under constant surveillance by the TSA. Air travel would also become more of a hassle and a burden. Does Harris even care about this? Apparently not. Patches is his friend and can do no wrong just as Harris can do no wrong with his far-reaching nepotism and wheeling and dealing.

Harris loves to invoke "democracy" whenever he wants to impress the international community. But saying it and practising it are two different things. He is no democrat; he is the new breed of authoritarian dictators like Bolsonaro in Brazil, Trump in the US, and Duterte in the Philippines. Is this what we voted for in 2015? And do we want more of the same? The people of SKN are smarter than that. Of that, I am sure.

What we need is a departure of these ills from our country's leadership. Patches and his buddy Harris should get on with their political departure; we cannot wait to see their backs at the gate.

Joel B. Liburd
Communications Consultant, Basseterre/Quebec

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Dutch government outlines €13bn package to shore up industry to end-August

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch cabinet is extending its coronavirus support package for industry by three months, at a cost of a further €13bn, the cabinet announced on Wednesday.

The current measures are due to expire on June 1. Ahead of the presentation, prime minister Mark Rutte said Wednesday’s new jobless figures are ‘dramatic’ and said the impact of coronavirus on the economy is ‘enormous’.

‘That makes it even more important to support companies and their workers as much as possible,’ he said. ‘The ultimate aim is to protect jobs as much as possible, but at the same time we must help companies and their workforces to adapt to the new reality, and the changes which will continue to be visible in our economy and our society,’ the prime minister said.

During the presentation, ministers said that the economy will not be the same again in the post Covid-19 period, and that bankruptcies and layoffs are inevitable. ‘We have to be realistic,’ social affairs minister Wouter Koolmees said.

‘We have a difficult period ahead of us. That means redundancies and bankruptcies. Some work will not come back.’ Finance minister Wopke Hoekstra said that people had to realise the virus will be around for a longer period.

‘We know that we are in a recession and that the consequences, particularly at a personal level may be far-reaching,’ Hoekstra said. The finance minister said the government is asking every company, every worker and every freelancer to be adaptable, inventive and willing to take a different direction if necessary.

Subsidies

As expected, the NOW subsidy to help companies pay wages will no longer be considered a subsidy if companies go on to sack staff, but the fine, equivalent to 50% of the support, will now be scrapped.

Companies will be able to ask for help if they have lost at least 20% of their turnover, and the conditions have been eased for firms in seasonal sectors. Companies which benefit from NOW support may not pay any bonuses to the boards or senior staff or dividends to shareholders.

Nor may they embark on share buy-back programmes. In addition, companies applying for NOW support will be encouraged to help staff retrain.

But ministers have not taken steps to exclude companies which pay little or no tax from benefiting from the scheme, as demanded by unions and some political parties.

Self-employed

As leaked earlier, the self-employed who apply for help (TOZO) will now face a check on their partner’s income and will not be eligible for payouts of up to €1,500 if their partners can support them.

The aim of this is to guarantee that only freelancers who really need the money can claim it, ministers said. Companies will also be able to claim compensation of up to €20,000 to help pay fixed costs such as rent.

The amount of the compensation under the revamped TOGS scheme will depend on the size of the loss of turnover. Credit schemes for small and medium-sized firms will also continue.

Companies will also be able to delay making tax payments until September 1. Ministers are also working on plans to help people on flexible contracts who are not covered by any of the other schemes for emergency assistance. Those details will be published later.

(DutchNews)

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ST. MAARTEN ACCEPTS DUTCH PROPOSAL PROVIDING IT DOES NOT TRAMPLE ON LAWS

SINT MAARTEN (COMMENTARY – By Ricardo Perez) - I commend the Government of St. Maarten for making a very hard decision in order to ensure that we have the collective means in order to survive the economic crisis that this health crisis has forced on everybody.

Reducing people's income of individuals that are already struggling is a very unpopular decision. Unfortunately, the reality is that under this world Pandemic nobody has been waived of experiencing some form of sacrifice.

True leaders must lead by example and make the hard choices when called upon.

Regardless how tough the conditions are we still must be thankful to the Netherlands and their taxpayers for their assistance.

Now more than ever we need to be even more vigilant to see which neighbor may require our assistance in order to ensure we alleviate and minimize their struggle. As the saying goes "it takes a village."

Ricardo Perez

 

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Dutch press ahead with easing Covid-19 rules and ramping up testing

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Plans to open restaurants, cafes and cinemas from June 1 can now go ahead as planned, prime minister Mark Rutte told reporters on Tuesday evening, following a meeting with health experts and other crisis team advisors.

‘Together we have earned this room to ease the rules, and relaxing the measures makes it even more important that we keep to the rules,’ Rutte said. The cabinet’s strategy, he said, is to look at the bigger picture, not just at an individual sector level.

‘Each step we take means busier streets, more people in public transport,’ he said. ‘If we move too quickly and need a second lockdown, then that will be even worse for our economy.’

From June 1 all secondary schools can open again, as long as the 1.5 metre rule is observed. Pupils should walk or cycle to school, and special transport will be organised for those who live too far away.

Public transport remains reserved for people in essential professions and non-medical face masks will be compulsory from June 1, Rutte said. People who don’t comply face a fine of €95.

Cafes and restaurants may have 30 customers indoors, and no limits to terrace numbers as long as everyone is seated at a table and keeps 1.5 metres distance – unless they are members of the same family.

Clubs and dance cafes will remain closed. Rutte said he understood that cafe owners are disappointed at not being allowed to open during Whitsun, when good weather is forecast, but the risk of allowing them to open early is too great.

Museums can also open again from June 1, provided tickets are sold in advance. Visits to nursing homes and other institutional care homes will also be further relaxed from that date.

The government is also in talks with gyms and sports schools to see if they can be allowed to open earlier than September 1, as outlined two weeks ago. From June 8, primary schools can open fully again, as long as the partial opening has not led to a boost in infections, Rutte said. Trade schools will be able to start carrying out tests and practical lessons from June 15.

Maximum control

Health minister Hugo de Jonge said the government’s strategy now is to ensure maximum control of the virus ‘so we can live our lives as we are used to’. ‘We have to realise that this is the situation until there is a vaccine,’ he said.

Plans to introduce mass testing of everyone with symptoms are on target to start up in June, and the aim to begin on June 1 remains in place, De Jonge said. Capacity is at 30,000 tests a day, but it depends how many people show up with symptoms.

People who have symptoms will be able to make an appointment with the local health board for a test. If the test is positive, they will be phoned and told to stay in and officials will then begin tracing contacts who may also be infected, De Jonge said.

Officials expect a positive test rate of 2% to 8%. Officials are also working on a ‘dashboard’ which, De Jonge said, will improve the provision of information and boost insight into the way the virus is being spread.

The information, which will be largely public, ‘will signal if we have to intervene locally or regionally,’ De Jonge said. The prime minister also spoke directly to children, thanking them for doing ‘a great job’ so far.

‘No-one knows how our country is going to look in the future and it is important that you think with us,’ Rutte said. ‘Your ideas and creativity are very important, and we urge you to share them with us.’

(DutchNews)

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Virtual Central Committee session of Parliament, Bi-weekly briefing with the Prime Minister and Chair of the EOC about an update and discussion on COVID 19

PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten - The House of Parliament will sit in a Virtual Central Committee session on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. The Committee meeting is scheduled for 14.00 hrs. The Minister of General Affairs and Chair of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will be in attendance. 

The agenda point is:

Biweekly briefing with the Prime Minister and Chair of the EOC: Update and discussion on COVID-19 (Corona Virus) 

Due to measures taken to mitigate the coronavirus (COVID-19), the House of Parliament is currently closed to the general public until further notice.  

The parliamentary session will be held virtually and will be carried out live on St. Maarten Cable TV Channel 115, via SXM GOV radio FM 107.9, via Pearl Radio FM 98.1 www.pearlfmradio.sx, via the internet www.sxmparliament.org, and Parliament’s Facebook page: Parliament of Sint Maarten

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