Man Dressed Up as Santa Claus May Have Been a Coronavirus Super-Spreader at Care Home in Belgium

·2 min read

Getty Images Hemelrijck

A care home in Belgium is experiencing an outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) after one of the residents' son paid a visit dressed as St. Nick.

The man who played Sinterklaas, as the merry holiday figure is known in Belgium, fell ill with COVID-19 days after visiting the Hemelrijck care home in the municipality of Mol, the Brussels Times reported over the weekend.

Since the visit, 61 of the home's 169 residents and 14 staff members have tested positive for the contagious respiratory virus, CNN reported Monday.

According to reports, the Sinterklaas wore a mask during his visit and spent time in the home's common areas, though he did not hand out gifts or visit individuals' rooms.

The activity is banned under Mol's current COVID-19 restrictions, and mayor Wim Caeyers said that Armonea, the company that runs Hemelrijck, did not notify the city that the visit would be taking place.

Getty Images Hemelrijck

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"If they had, we would have given a negative response," Caeyers said, according to the Brussels Times.

To make matters worse, while the home's management reportedly told the city that residents had been masked during the event, a photo from the visit shows otherwise.

"We received incorrect information from the management," Mol said in a statement, per the Belgian newspaper. "We deeply regret that. After looking at several photos, we have to conclude that this goes much further than an error of judgement. Rather, this is a case of totally irresponsible management."

Armonea spokesperson Jannes Verheyen said in a statement that "it makes no sense to condemn people."

Getty Images Santa Claus

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"The team is very shocked by what happened, but that also makes them very motivated to get the virus out again," he added.

Armonea did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

Hemelrijck's remaining residents and staff are to be tested for COVID-19. The "vast majority" of residents currently infected are apparently asymptomatic, CNN reported, though one resident with more severe symptoms is on oxygen. Another resident, who was reportedly already receiving palliative care, has since died.

Belgium has had at least 608,137 cases of COVID-19, and at least 17,951 people have died from the virus in the country, according to data from the New York Times.

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