A “superspreader” Santa has been blamed for a large outbreak of coronavirus at a care home.
Authorities in Mol, Antwerp, are investigating after scores of residents at the Hemelrijck residential home tested positive for COVID-19, following a Christmas visit from a man dressed as St Nicholas.
Initial reports suggested 45 residents tested positive, although Flemish broadcaster VRT is reporting this number has hit 75, including 14 staff.
The mayor of Mol Wim Caeyers told VRT the visit was “made with the best intent, but it went wrong”.
He added: “It has been a very black day for the care home.
“It is a very great mental strain to bear for the man that played St Nicholas, as well as for the organisers and the staff.”
He said it “will be all hands on deck” to bring the virus under control and that council workers, the Red Cross and the governor of Antwerp Province have been drafted in to help.
Care home staff hoped the visit would boost morale among residents and the Santa reportedly did not feel unwell before the visit.
Those who fell ill are only suffering mild to moderate symptoms, according to reports.
In a press statement given to local media, the municipal authorities in Mol said Father Christmas “visited various communal areas such as the sitting room”.
“He kept his distance from the residents and wore a face covering. The residents also wore face coverings,” the statement added.
Although photos obtained by VRT showed residents without masks.
Mr Caeyers said: “Initially [the care home] said that the rules had been followed, but then straight away you receive photos from the families of residents where you can see that this wasn’t the case.”
Jannes Verheyen, a spokesperson for Armonea, the firm which runs the home, told The Brussels Times: “The team is very shocked by what happened, but that also makes them very motivated to get the virus out again.”