Dec 15, 2020

Santa infects 75 in Belgium aged care home


A Santa visiting an aged care home in Belgium brought an unwelcome gift this year. He is being blamed for 75 staff and residents contracting the potentially deadly virus.

‘Sinkerklaas’, as Santa is known in Belgium, was brought into the home, where 150 residents live, to spread some Christmas cheer.

But three days after the visit, Santa became unwell and tested positive for COVID-19. 

The result prompted health officials to test residents and staff, revealing that 61 residents, all older people, and 14 staff at Hemelrijck care home in Mol, Antwerp, had contracted the virus.

Marc Van Ranst, from KU Leuven university, said it was a “stupid idea” for Santa to visit the home, and that poor ventilation at the home would have made it more likely the virus spread, the Daily Mail is reporting.

According to the Brussels Times, the home reported Santa and his elves wore masks and observed social distancing, but photos from the day show Santa drawing close to the residents as he shared the Christmas spirit.

A representative of the city said, “We received incorrect information from the management. 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,” the Brussels Times reported.

“It was done with the best intent, but it went wrong,” Mol’s mayor, Wim Caeyers, told Belgium’s national broadcaster VRT

“It has been a very black day for the care home,” he said.

“It is a very great mental strain to bear for the man that played Saint Nicholas, as well as for the organisers and the staff,” Caeyers said.

The care home’s managers should have communicated more openly about the incident, Caeyers said.  

“Initially they 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.”

Belgium has received unwelcome notoriety this year as the nation with the world’s highest death rate from COVID-19.

Belgium has recorded 608,137 COVID-19 cases and 17,951 deaths. The nation has a death rate of 1,546 per million of the population, compared with 926 deaths per million in the US, and 946 in the UK. Australia has only recorded 5 deaths per million.

Though bars and restaurants are closed in Belgium, shops remain open. 

Virologist Marc Van Ranst warned that stricter COVID-19 measures could just hit those already following the rules, according to the Brussels Times.

However, police have had to break up many lockdown parties in Brussels, even recently intervening in a ‘sex party’ attended by 52 people, all of whom were French.

Image: Lya_Cattel, iStock.


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