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Under investigation: Was Sinterklaas a super-spreader?

The official Sinterklaas was not involved in the incident. © Erik Bro/Wikimedia

The municipal authorities in Mol in Antwerp province are investigating a spike of 57 Covid-19 infections in a rest home, days after a visit by Sinterklaas.

The Hemelrijck home has 169 residents. The son of one of them last week dressed up as Sinterklaas to pay a visit to the home and cheer up the residents.

Days later the man became unwell and tested positive for Covid-19. In the days that followed, a total of 45 home residents also tested positive, apparently as a result of the visit.

According to the municipal crisis cell, activities like a visit from Sinterklaas were forbidden, and the company that runs the home, Armonea, failed to inform the crisis cell that the activity was taking place.

If they had, we would have given a negative response,” said Mol mayor Wim Caeyers (CD&V). The municipality has described the incident as an error of judgement on the part of the home management.

All residents and staff will now be tested to discover the full extent of the contamination, other than the 45 people already known to have been infected.

The management of the home said the visit only took place in common areas of the home, and did not involve the private rooms of the residents. The man remained at a safe distance from residents and was masked throughout the visit, as were the residents. No packages were handed out.

However the VRT reports that in a photo of the event, it can clearly be seen that while the visitors were wearing masks, the residents of the home were not.

We received incorrect information from the management,” the municipality said. “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.”

It makes no sense to condemn people,” said Jannes Verheyen, spokesperson for Armonea. “The team is very shocked by what happened, but that also makes them very motivated to get the virus out again.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times