At least 26 residents at a Belgian care home have died after a COVID-19 outbreak following a visit by volunteers dressed as Saint Nicholas and his helper Zwarte Piet.
Some 85 residents and 40 staff members at Hemelrijck nursing home in Mol, in Antwerp province, have tested positive for coronavirus since the December 5 visit, marking the popular children’s holiday Sinterklaas.
Although one volunteer also tested positive for the virus, it is unclear if he was the source of the outbreak.
Marc Van Ranst, a leading epidemiologist in Belgium, wrote on social media that most of the infections came from the same source.
The care home believes that the number of infections has stabilized and those that have contracted the virus have seen their symptoms improve, according to local reports.
“Hopefully the turning point has been reached,” the care home’s director Greet Moonen said. “I recognize that communication with the family members was not smooth. As a team, we are doing our utmost to improve this.”
Reports said that relatives of one resident who died will file a complaint against the home with Flanders’ Agency for Care and Health.
There is no suggestion that the volunteer knew he was infected when he made the visit in December.
Photographs from the event revealed that some residents were not wearing masks.
The local municipality has since criticized the event as “completely irresponsible.”