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27 Dead After 'Completely Irresponsible' Santa Visit

Residents at Belgian nursing home were seen in pics not wearing masks during holiday event
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 1, 2021 1:00 PM CST

(Newser) – Authorities in Belgium say a 27th elderly person has died in an outbreak at a nursing home from a superspreading St. Nick party last month, but they hope the situation is now under control. The Hemelrijck home in the northern Belgium city of Mol had organized an early December visit from actors playing St. Nicholas and his helper, reports the AP. Days later, however, residents started exhibiting COVID symptoms, and now, nearly a month later, there are at least 88 infections among residents and 42 among staff. The death of the 27th person from the virus was announced Thursday. The city and families of some of the deceased are complaining that the nursing home should never have organized the party when restrictive measures on events were in place throughout the country to contain the pandemic.

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Per the Guardian, the Mol municipality said in an initial statement that the actor playing St. Nick, who later tested positive for COVID, "always kept a distance from the residents, stayed nowhere longer than a few minutes, and wore a mouth mask. The residents also wore a mouth mask." Pics soon emerged, however, showing residents not wearing masks, and the municipality put out a new statement. "We have received wrong information from the management," the municipality now says. "We deeply regret that. After looking at several photos, we have to conclude that this goes much further than an error. Rather, it is a completely irresponsible event. We would never have approved this." Health officials can't say with certainty that the actor is the one who brought the virus into the nursing home. "The man was a volunteer in the care home and theoretically could have been infected by a resident or a staff member," a virologist tells the AP.

(Read more Belgium stories.)

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