A coronavirus-infected St. Nicholas' visit to a care home in Belgium has killed 18 residents — five of those on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, according to reports. Over 121 residents and 36 staff members were infected with Covid-19 since St. Nicholas visited the Hemelrijck nursing home in Mol Antwerp, earlier this month.
On Dec. 4, a volunteer dressed up as St. Nicholas and visited the assisted-living facility along with Zwarte Piet to spread Christmas cheer without knowing he was infected with coronavirus, according to the Brussels Times. He interacted with several elderly people at the nursing home and posed for photographs with them.
Three days after the visit, St. Nicholas fell ill and was tested positive for coronavirus triggering concern among health officials. Authorities began testing at the care home.
'A Totally Irresponsible Organization'
Wim Caeyers, mayor of Mol, said that the care home initially misled the administration saying they followed Covid-19 guidelines during St. Nicholas' visit. However, the administration be aware that no guidelines were followed after photos of St. Nicholas' photos with the care home residents and staff went viral on social media.
"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," Caeyers told local media and called the facility "a totally irresponsible organization."
However, he empathized with the man that dressed up as St. Nicholas.
"We're expecting up to ten difficult days. It has been a very black day for the care home," the mayor said. "It is a very great mental strain to bear for the man that played St Nicholas, as well as for the organizers and the staff."
A spokesman for Armonea, the firm that managed the care home said they were "shocked" by the development. However, it added that the situation also "makes [the team] very motivated to get the virus out again."
Marc Van Ranst, of the KU Leuven university, one of Belgium's top virologists, called the event a "stupid idea." However, he expressed doubts that St. Nicolas could have caused the Covid-19 outbreak at the care home.
"Even for a super-spreader, these are too many infections at once," Van Ranst said, adding that poor ventilation would have likely lead to the outbreak.