A man who dressed up as Santa Claus is being accused of spreading COVID-19 at a Belgium care home.
According to The Brussels Times on Saturday, officials are investigating an outbreak at the Hemelrijck home in the city of Mol.
Last week, the son of one of the 169 residents dressed up as Sinterklaas, as the legendary figure is known in Flemish-speaking parts of the country, and reportedly remained at a safe distance from residents in common areas.
The home’s management reportedly told The Brussels Times that the man was masked throughout the visit and no presents were handed out. They also reportedly told the outlet that residents wore masks as well.
However, a reported photo from the event shows that some residents did not have on facial coverings.
“We received incorrect information from the management,” the municipality of Mol said in a statement. “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 man later fell ill and tested positive for COVID-19. In the days that followed, 61 residents and 14 staff members also contracted the virus, according to CNN on Monday.
Per the Belgian newspaper, activities such as the man’s visit are banned under COVID-19 restrictions. Officials also allege that the company that runs the home, Armonea, failed to inform authorities that the visit would take place.
“If they had, we would have given a negative response,” Mol Mayor Wim Caeyers said in a statement.
In response to the story, Jannes Verheyen, a spokesperson for Armonea, told The Brussels times, “It makes no sense to condemn people. The team is very shocked by what happened, but that also makes them very motivated to get the virus out again.”
Despite the care home’s “error in judgment,” Mol says “in-depth scientific research” is needed to definitively determine whether the visit was the cause of the outbreak.
Per CNN, the municipality says one resident who was already receiving palliative care has died, and another resident with severe symptoms is being administered oxygen therapy inside the care home.
They added that the “vast majority” of those infected are doing well and are not showing symptoms.