KEY POINTS

  • Santa visit to nursing home in Mol,  Antwerp, blamed for COVID-19 spread
  • Authorities tested residents after the actor fell ill and tested positive 
  • Local media showed residents without masks while mingling with Santa

A Santa Claus was hauled to a care home in Belgium for lighting up the Christmas spirit but he ended up spreading COVID-19 to more than 70 inmates and staff members.

Multiple residents and staff at the Hemelrijck residential home in Mol in Belgian city of Antwerp were diagnosed with the coronavirus after a man dressed as Santa Claus visited the facility last week.

Staff at the nursing home began testing its residents after the man reportedly fell ill following the visit and his test for COVID-19 came back positive. Initial reports suggested that 45 residents at the hospital  tested positive for the illness, but the tally was later updated to 75, including 14 staff, Sky News reported.

The management of the care home told The Brussels Times that the Santa only visited the common areas of the home, and didn’t enter private rooms of the residents. The management said that the man maintained a safe distance with the residents and wore a mask throughout his visit. He also reportedly didn’t hand out gifts. The infected residents are suffering mild to moderate symptoms.

However, photos revealed by the local media showed the residents mingling with the Santa without wearing their masks.

Wim Caeyers, the The mayor of Mol, told Flemish broadcaster VRT that the visit was "made with the best intent, but it went wrong." "It has been a very black day for the care home," Caeyers added.

"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," 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."

"The team is very shocked by what happened, but that also makes them very motivated to get the virus out again," Jannes Verheyen, a spokesperson for Armonea, the firm which runs the home, told The Brussels Times.

Belgium has recorded a total of 608,137 coronavirus cases as of Monday, with 17,951 deaths. Caeyers told VRT that the government is putting in their best efforts to bring the virus under control. 

Santa Claus A man dressed as Santa Claus is seen during the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade in New York City on Nov. 24, 2016. Photo: Getty Images