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Santa gives Belgian care home Covid-19: 75 are infected after ‘superspreader’ visited residents

Santa gives Belgian care home Covid-19: 75 people are infected after ‘superspreader’ dressed as Father Christmas visited residents

  • Santa was welcomed into care home of 150 residents in town of Mol, Antwerp 
  • Three days after he tested positive for Covid-19, sparking fears at the care home
  • Since then 61 elderly and 14 staff have tested positive. One resident on oxygen 
  • Santa is said to be filled with remorse, mayor calls home ‘totally irresponsible’

Santa Claus has left 75 care home residents and staff infected with Covid-19 in Belgium.

Sinterklaas and his helpers in black face known as Zwarte Piet (‘Black Pete’) were welcomed in to spread Christmas cheer among the 150 residents.

But Santa has been blamed for ‘superspreading’ the deadly virus to 61 elderly residents and another 14 staff at the Hemelrijck care home in Mol, Antwerp, last week.

At least one of the residents has been treated with oxygen. 

The Father Christmas fell ill and tested positive for Covid-19 three days after visiting, prompting health officials to start testing at the home.

The volunteer dressed as Sinterklaas was welcomed in to spread Christmas cheer among the 150 residents of the Hemelrijck care home in Mol, Antwerp, last week (pictured: residents enjoying mulled wine and oranges as Santa and his Zwarte Piet (‘Black Pete’) helpers visit the home)

The home had claimed that social-distancing was observed, but the Sinterklaas was pictured standing very close to the elderly residents

The home had claimed that social-distancing was observed, but the Sinterklaas was pictured standing very close to the elderly residents

Santa and his helpers chat with residents of the care home last week. His helpers are in black face and dressed as Zwarte Piet ('Black Pete'), a controversial traditional character in the Netherlands and parts of Belgium

Santa and his helpers chat with residents of the care home last week. His helpers are in black face and dressed as Zwarte Piet (‘Black Pete’), a controversial traditional character in the Netherlands and parts of Belgium

Mayor of Mol Wim Caeyers told local media: ‘It has been a very black day for the care home.

Who is ‘Black Pete’?

The Santa’s helper character first appeared in an 1850 book by Amsterdam schoolteacher Jan Schenkman.

Those portraying Zwarte Piet typically put on blackface make-up and colourful Renaissance attire, in addition to curly wigs, red lipstick, and earrings.

Opponents say such depictions promote racist stereotypes, while supporters defend the helper of Sinterklaas, the white-bearded, red-robed Dutch version of St. Nicholas, as a traditional children’s character. 

‘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.’

But pictures of the event showed that not all residents wore masks and that Santa and his little helpers stood within two metres of the elderly.

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.’

His administration has called the care home ‘a totally irresponsible organization.’

The mayor said that it will be ‘all hands on deck’ to bring the virus under control, with local health workers, the Red Cross and the Governor of Antwerp helping, following crisis talks on Sunday.

A spokesman for Armonea, the firm which manages the home, said: ‘The team is very shocked by what happened, but that also makes them very motivated to get the virus out again.’

One of Belgium’s top virologists, however, has expressed his doubts that the Santa Claus volunteer could have caused so many infections.

Marc Van Ranst, of KU Leuven university, said: ‘Even for a super-spreader, these are too many infections at once.’

Father Christmas speaks to an elderly resident. He and his helper appear to be standing closer than two metres away from her

Father Christmas speaks to an elderly resident. He and his helper appear to be standing closer than two metres away from her

Hemelrijck care home in Mol, Antwerp, which is run by the firm Armonea

Hemelrijck care home in Mol, Antwerp, which is run by the firm Armonea

In recent days Belgium has recorded an increase in the number of daily infections, 2,762 on Saturday and another 4,978 on Sunday

In recent days Belgium has recorded an increase in the number of daily infections, 2,762 on Saturday and another 4,978 on Sunday

He believes that poor ventilation is much more likely the cause and that CO2 measurements should be taken by the local health officials.

Nonetheless, he added that having Santa visit during the pandemic was a ‘stupid idea.’ 

Belgium has the worst coronavirus deaths per million of its population in the world.

In recent days it has recorded an increase in the number of daily infections, 2,762 on Saturday and another 4,978 on Sunday.

In the last week there was an increase in cases of around 3 percent compared to the week before.  

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