Soualiga Newsday Focus

Soualiga Newsday Focus (2180)

Covid-19 deaths stay in single figures, infections lowest for 12 weeks

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Another five people have died of Covid-19 in the Netherlands, the third day in a row that deaths have been in single figures, according to latest figures from the public health agency RIVM.

Six new hospital admissions were recorded, while another 102 people tested positive for coronavirus. The number of infections was one fewer than on Monday and the lowest daily increase since early March.

The number of positive tests has peaked on Tuesdays in previous weeks, but the Whitsun holiday means the spike is likely to be delayed until Wednesday. In total 5,967 people in the Netherlands are known to have died from Covid-19 since the outbreak began in February.

The actual number of deaths is much higher because only people who have tested positive for coronavirus are included in the official statistics. A total of 11,750 people have been treated in hospital with the virus, while 46,647 positive tests have been recorded.



Amsterdam mayor under fire for not intervening at anti-racism demo

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema has come in for fierce criticism for not intervening to stop an estimated 5,000 people coming to the Dam in the centre of the city for a demonstration against police violence.

The mayor told a television current affair show on Monday evening she had been taken by surprise by the numbers who turned up. ‘The organisers had said they expected 250 to 300 people, and usually figures like that are an exaggeration,’ Halsema told Op1.

‘But during the demonstration the number swelled, and the police were not prepared.’ Halsema said intervening was not an option because it would not have been responsible.

‘We would have had to take a tough line to clear the square and I did not think that would have been responsible,’ she said. ‘People were demonstrating peacefully, and they were wearing face masks.

If I had known this would happen, then we would have led them away.’ The organisers had called on everyone to wear a mask and to keep to 1.5 metres distance, but that was not always possible because of the size of the crowd.

‘It was very busy,’ one demonstrator told DutchNews.


However, justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus has described the demonstration as painful ‘at a time when we are doing all we can as a society to get coronavirus under control.’

Klaas Dijkhoff, parliamentary leader of the VVD, said everyone at the demonstration should go into quarantine for two weeks, a call echoed by the mayor of Haarlemmermeer.

Other critics pointed out that parks have been closed when they get too busy and cafe owners face restrictions on numbers because of the 1.5 metre rule.


However, health experts say that the demonstration is unlikely to become a ‘superspreading’ event. While there are risks in being in a large crowd and not keeping 1.5 metres distance, most demonstrators were wearing masks and any infected droplets would be blown away by the wind, Leiden virologist Mariet Feltkamp told broadcaster NOS.

Nevertheless, the Parool points out that less than a month ago, Halsema was one of a handful of people on an empty Dam for the Remembrance Day commemorations.

‘What impact will this have on the rest of the Netherlands’ motivation to stick to the coronavirus rules at work or on a cafe terrace?’ the paper said.

‘Of course it is the individual’s responsibility, but are we not dealing with this together? Halsema has some explaining to do.’


But Jerry Afriyie, one of the organisers of the demonstration, said he was proud of ‘his mayor’. ‘I am glad she has shared the pain of part of the Amsterdam family and given the room for this pain to be expressed,’ he said on Twitter.

‘Today was historical, and only people who approve of racism can complain about her courage.’



Thousands demonstrate against police violence in Amsterdam

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Several thousand demonstrators gathered on Dam square in central Amsterdam on Monday to protest at the killing of George Floyd and to show solidarity with anti-police violence campaigners in the US.

The demonstrators, wearing face masks and carrying cardboard placards stating ‘Black lives matter’ and ‘I can’t breathe’, struggled to keep to social distancing rules, but the atmosphere was good and there was a low profile police presence, eye witnesses said.

Demonstrations also took place in cities across Europe, including London, Copenhagen and Berlin. The Hague and Groningen are on the list for Tuesday while Rotterdam will follow on June 3.

The aim of the demonstration was to both show solidarity with the demonstrators in the US and to focus attention on ‘racism and police violence in the Netherlands and the EU,’ the organisers said.

In particular the organisers refer to the death of Mitch Hendriquez, who died following a violent arrest in The Hague five years ago, and the arrest of Jerry Afriyie in Gouda during an anti-Zwarte Piet demonstration in 2014.

According to RTL, some 3,000 people took part in the rally. Police have not yet given an estimate.



Dutch coronavirus death toll rises by six, as mass testing starts up

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The official coronavirus death toll in the Netherlands continued to inch towards 6,000 on Monday, rising by six to 5,962, the national health institute RIVM said in its latest update.

A further nine people were admitted to hospital for treatment, taking that total to 11,744. On Sunday, the RIVM reported five more deaths and eight hospital admissions, while the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care wards fell by 11 to 159.

At the height of the pandemic, almost 1,500 people were being treated in IC wards and some had been moved to Germany. In the Sunday and Monday updates, a further 288 people tested positive for the virus, bringing the total to 46,545.

The positive test total is likely to go up more sharply now that testing has been widened to include everyone who has symptoms. The phone line – 0800-1202 – was busy on Monday morning but the national health board said there is sufficient capacity to test everyone who gets in touch.

On Saturday health minister Hugo de Jonge urged everyone with complaints, even if they only consider them to be mild, to have a test and to stay home until they had the results.



The hospitality industry gets creative ahead of the June 1 re-opening

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Nora Kalabokas is sitting on the pavement in front of Ter Marsch & Co restaurant on Amsterdam’s normally busy Vijzelstraat thoroughfare.

In front of her are dismembered mannequin parts—headless torsos, legs, arms. This 30-year-old artist, who was fired from her job as a cook shortly after the city’s restaurants were forced to close in mid-March, is painting the cadavers a fluorescent pink in preparation for their new life as human stand-ins and social distancing reminders when Ter Marsch & Co reopens its doors June 1.

‘The restaurant hired me to fill up its space with mannequins so that we can keep the 1.5-meter distance between guests and give a feeling of ambiance and that the place is a bit more full,’ says Kalabokas.

As the country’s restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars get ready to reopen Monday at noon, they will be following strict government guidelines that include 1.5 meters distance between people (except those living together), a reservations-only system, questioning customers beforehand about any corona-related symptoms and a 30-person maximum indoor seating capacity.


‘Most places will have arrows and lanes where people can move,’ says Kalabokas. ‘It’s practical, but on the other hand, those symbols of arrows and lanes are a bit restricting…especially in a space that’s beautiful and cosy.’

With 36 playfully-painted mannequins (‘How many?’ asks one torso decorated with shot glasses) to 30 diners, the number of live and lifeless guests will be roughly equal. Ter Marsch & Co’s creative approach to social distancing is being echoed throughout the country.

Art centre and restaurant Mediamatic has gone viral with its individual greenhouses providing cosy and safe socially-distant-dining for groups of two to four on its waterside terrace.

Having sold out for June and July, Mediamatic recently added six more greenhouses to its original five to accommodate demand.

‘For sure we were surprised by their success,’ says Margot Holtman, Mediamatic’s venue manager, who attributes the idea to a brainstorm. ‘We already had the glass houses and used them for art projects. We thought about renting them to people to have drinks at home, but then realized we could have people come here.’


But many Dutch establishments haven’t waited for reopening day to get creative. Restaurant-Café In de Waag, located in a 15th century former weigh house in the centre of Amsterdam’s Nieuwmarkt, used its location as the medieval gateway to the city as a bike-thru for customers picking up meals to go.

‘It was a great PR stunt, and people love to cycle through,’ says In de Waag co-owner Priscilla den Ouden, who will stop the popular service when she reopens in June. She is now turning her attention to innovative ways her regulars can once again enjoy reading newspapers at the restaurant’s long tables.

‘Maybe it will be with an iPad you can clean,’ she says of management’s ongoing deliberations. ‘We are also discussing with local newspapers about possibly having a code where people can read the papers on their phones without having to buy a subscription.’

What is certain, though, is that In de Waag, blessed with a huge terrace, will be part of the Nieuwmarkt’s efforts to open up the square to the area’s other eateries that lack outdoor seating space of their own.

Shared space

An initiative of the Nieuwmarkt Entrepreneurs Association, the square, if permission is granted, will serve as a shared terrace for some 25 neighbourhood eating and drinking establishments working as a cooperative, including those on the cramped Zeedijk that risk going under in the crisis.

Serving as a blueprint for how the rest of the country’s catering industry might navigate the new 1.5-meter economy, the fenced-off square, which is expected to open mid-June, will feature 25 tables and 100 guests maximum, although if all goes well, it could be expanded.

Visitors must make reservations beforehand via an app and will dine in shifts, with tables and chairs being cleaned in between seatings. Food and drinks will also be ordered by app and can then be picked up or delivered.

Heineken Netherlands, which is working with the Nieuwmarkt cooperative, is also involved in similar plans at Amsterdam’s Leidseplein, the Ziggo Done and the Rai.

Street closures

Other parts of the city are also taking advantage of the new terrace expansion rules released by the mayor last week. In addition to requesting space on squares, restaurant and bar owners can also apply to use streets, parking spaces, barges, and other public spaces for outdoor seating.

Strict conditions apply, including providing enough space for pedestrians and traffic flow. In return, terrace heating, umbrellas and pouring alcohol on public roads will be temporarily permitted and terrace taxes won’t, for the moment, apply.

For restaurants and bars on the popular but narrow 700-meter long Utrechtsestraat that runs through Amsterdam’s eastern canal district, the new rules could prove a lifeline.

Brasserie Nel on the nearby Amstelveld has applied for a terrace extension to accommodate about a dozen more tables.

Manager Thomas van Bogget says in addition to losing some 40 percent of its indoor seating capacity, terrace seating has dropped by more than half. ‘We used to get a lot of big groups, including companies and birthday parties, but that’s not possible anymore,’ he says.

Larger tables will now cater to families, who are allowed to dine together, but that will not make up for the café’s mainstay of group drinkers imbibing on its leafy terrace.


The situation is even more dire, Van Bogget says, for his bar-owning neighbours, who either have no or limited outside space and are too small to fit enough people inside under the new rules to turn a profit.

‘For them it’s really hard, so hopefully they’ll be able to expand here to the Amstelveld,’ he says. ‘Like in the Nieuwmarkt, to make it one big terrace for smaller bars that are a little further away.

I hope that’s the case, because it would be a nasty situation if a lot of small businesses go under.’ While creative use of outdoor space may bring a temporary respite from the financial effects of the coronavirus, especially with an unseasonably warm and sunny spring, the dark cloud hanging over the hospitality horizon is winter.

Colder weather means moving indoors to smaller spaces. For Mediamatic, it means returning their dining greenhouses to their original use as art installations. ‘We will 100 percent continue as long as the weather allows,’ says Holtman.

‘We need to do something now so we can survive the winter as well,’ adds Van Bogget. ‘Hopefully, it will be nice summer, because winter will be a completely different story for everyone, including the bars.

You need to make money now so you can keep your head up if winter is the same story.’



The Hague police arrest 37 for breaking rules at anti-lockdown protest

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Police in The Hague on Saturday arrested 37 people at anti-lockdown and anti-5G demonstrations throughout the city.

The city council had given the green light for 30 people to protest at several different locations, on condition they kept 1.5 metres distance from each other.

In the event, some 80 people attended the demonstration on the Koekamp, near the main railway station, many of whom refused to do so when ordered to go by police.

Riot police then moved in to make arrests. Demonstrators who did not respect the 30 maximum rules were ‘risking the health and safety of passersby and other demonstrators,’ acting mayor Johan Remkes said.

‘This is unacceptable, and then we will act.’



Romanian ambassador ‘concerned’ about conditions in Dutch meat firms

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Romanian ambassador to the Netherlands has written to the Dutch government outlining concerns about the conditions in slaughterhouses, where hundreds of Romanian and other eastern Europeans work.

In that letter, the ambassador ‘expressed concern about the risks which Romanian workers are exposed to and called for increased controls in the meat processing industry.’

In addition, the embassy has renewed calls to Romanian workers to report ‘any type of abuse or exploitation’ to social affairs ministry inspectors or to contact the diplomatic mission for support and guidance.

The letter follows a visit by the ambassador and embassy officials to the Vion meat processing plant in Scherpenzeel, where dozens of mainly Romanian workers were ordered into quarantine after being found to have coronavirus.

Since then two more meat processing plants, mainly staffed by eastern Europeans, have been closed down in coronavirus scares. Some 10,000 workers from eastern Europe work in the Dutch meat industry, mainly via staffing agencies, which often include accommodation as part of the deal.

Monique Kremer, chairwoman of the government’s Advisory Committee on Migratory Affairs, told the NRC on Saturday that concerns about these workers, who are at the bottom of the labour market, are not misplaced, with or without the coronavirus crisis.

‘They work for low wages and we all benefit from that,’ she said. ‘We don’t want to pay too much for meat, asparagus or packages from’


Six years ago, while employed at the Scientific Council for Government Policy, Kremer brought out a report on the position of Romanian and Bulgarian workers in the Netherlands and, she says, little has changed since then.

Regulation is limited and there are not enough inspectors to make sure people are not being exploited, she said. The unions are not well represented on the shop floor and workers themselves are ‘invisible’ because they work and live together as a closed group.

‘It is very difficult to give these people a voice and when their boss organises their living quarters as well, they become extra dependent,’ she said. Many more inspectors, stronger unions, and more information in countries of origin are key to improving the situation, Kremer said.

The staffing agency sector also needs to be tackled and in should become much more difficult to start up an agency, Kremer said.


A year ago, home affairs minister Kajsa Ollongren and social affairs minister Wouter Koolmees told MPs that the way in which migrant workers are being exploited by some employers and staffing agencies in the Netherlands is unacceptable and damaging the country’s reputation.

The statement came after Poland’s ambassador to the Netherlands sounded the alarm about dodgy staffing agencies and the abuse of Dutch labour laws to exploit migrant workers.

‘People are being brought to the Netherlands under false pretences and have to work here in poor conditions, while being excluded from Dutch society,’ he told the AD at the time.



Five more people hospitalised with Covid-19 in the Netherlands

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The number of people admitted to hospital suffering from coronavirus rose by five overnight to 11,727, public health institute RIVM said on Saturday.

This is the lowest figure since mid-March. By Friday, 618 coronavirus patients were still being treated in hospital, while 180 were in an intensive care ward. The Saturday death toll rose by 20 to 5,951, but this is well below the true figure because it only includes people who have tested positive for the virus.

The number of positive tests rose by 131 to 46,257. Testing is currently restricted to people who are admitted to hospital, healthcare workers, teachers and school support staff and members of the emergency services.

From June 1, however, everyone with symptoms will be able to have a test, without the intervention of their family doctor.



Dutch coronavirus death toll continues to creep up

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The official Dutch coronavirus death toll rose by a further 28 on Friday, the public health institute RIVM said in its latest update. That takes the total number of deaths to 5,931.

At the same time, the total number of people who died in the week to May 24 was below the number which would have been expected for the time of year, the RIVM said.

It is the second week in a row in which fewer people died that statistics would have indicated. In total, 2,750 people died in the week to May 24. At the height of the crisis, the weekly death toll was over 5,000.

The number of hospital admissions continues to rise slowly, rising by eight overnight to 11,722.



Most secondary school pupils will spend one day a week in the classroom

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Most secondary school pupils in the Netherlands will attend physical lessons just one day a week when high schools reopen on June 2, according to research.

The secondary school’s council VO Raad polled 400 head teachers and found a wide variation in plans. Some schools are only admitting pupils for meetings or tests, while a handful of schools are only allowing children from certain classes back.

Most are opting for a mixture of meetings and lessons in school and online lessons at home. Over the past few weeks, only pupils who need to take exams and those from vulnerable backgrounds had actual physical teaching.

‘It is a major challenge to reopen schools with the proviso that both pupils and teachers keep 1.5 metres distance from each other,’ said VO Raad chairman Paul Rosenmöller.

‘It is asking a lot of teachers and support staff, but our survey shows that the agreements which have been made about reopening might be tricky but can be put into practice.’


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