Concerned about the limited health care facilities in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament wants to know how the Dutch government is providing support to the islands in terms of their medical needs and capacity.
The Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations sent a long list of questions to Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops on Thursday as a response to his letter dated March 25 about the effects of the coronavirus in the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom.
The committee is concerned about the limited medical capacity. “Are there sufficient medical facilities on the islands to deal with a possible outbreak? In what way are the Caribbean Netherlands islands supported in their needs for intensive-care capacity, masks, ventilators and support equipment? How are they supported in terms of capacity for patients? Is the health care on the islands sufficiently equipped, both in quality and quantity, to handle one or more (severe) COVID-19 patients?”
The committee members asked about increasing the level of preparedness when the number of COVID-19 patients increases. “How will the Netherlands offer support in case coronavirus contaminations happen on the islands which immediately surpass the local medical capacity, which is very limited, with Saba, for example, only having one IC unit? To what extent can St. Maarten Medical Center still take care of patients
from Saba and St. Eustatius?”
The committee members wanted to know whether, aside from Bonaire, medical specialists have also gone to St. Eustatius and Saba. They also asked about the guaranteeing of regular health care for patients in the Caribbean Netherlands; for example, diabetics and kidney patients in St. Eustatius and Saba who travel to St. Maarten for treatment.
Isolating the Caribbean Netherlands with the suspension of regular air travel and cruise ships in essence is a very good concept to keep the coronavirus away from the islands. However, the committee wondered how things would proceed when the borders were re-opened. “Is a scenario being worked on how to guard the islands against new contaminations once the travel restrictions are lifted?”
The deployment of Dutch Defence for Saba and St. Eustatius was mentioned. “Is it possible to provide military support to Saba and St. Eustatius in case St. Maarten is no longer able to medically support these islands? If so, when?”
There were some questions relating to the Dutch emergency package, which also applies to Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba as they are part of the Netherlands. The Dutch government anticipates spending about 13 million euros for the Caribbean Netherlands to assist employers and employees.
The committee asked about the possibility to extend the duration of the emergency package to six months, seeing that the islands are greatly dependent on tourism. It was also pointed out that self-employed persons, under the emergency package, can receive 80 per cent of the minimum wage, which is about US $900. “Do you acknowledge that this amount is below the subsistence level? Are you willing to increase this amount?”
The committee members inquired about the additional funding available for the public entities. They wanted to know whether these additional means could be used to temporarily increase the social benefits to cover the increasing cost of living and extra medical expenses for residents.
The poverty level and high cost of living on the islands were addressed by the committee as well. Knops was asked how he would speed up the process to reduce the cost of living. Knops’ colleague State Secretary of Social Affairs and Labour Tamara van Ark is in charge of this process, which in the opinion of the Second Chamber is taking too long while people are suffering in poverty. Another question also related to the portfolio of State Secretary van Ark. “Arc you willing, considering the special circumstances of the islands, which heavily depend on tourism, to temporary raise the amounts of the legal minimum wage law?”
Regarding the support to small entrepreneurs, the committee asked what amount of the six-million-euro subsidy to the low interest loan facility Qredits would be destined for the Caribbean Netherlands, and how the communication would take place so small businesses can make use of this facility.
The Daily Herald.