At least 26 residents of a Belgian care home have died of covi-19 and dozens more are infected after a volunteer dressed as Father Christmas distributed presents.

At least 26 residents of a Belgian retirement home have died since a visit by a volunteer dressed as Santa Claus. The volunteer has since tested positive for covid-19, Belgian media reported on Thursday.

A Flemish health official told AFP news agency that is not certain if it was the visitor who brought the virus to the home in Hemelrijck on December 5.

But the visit by the infected Father Christmas was followed by 26 deaths and 85 residents testing positive, along with 40 staff.

The outbreak was detected a few days after the visit and virologists say those who were infected came from the same source.

Santa did not know he was infected

The white-bearded, red-robed figure of Sinterklaas, the equivalent to the English-speaking world’s Santa Claus, traditionally brings gifts to Belgians on December 6.

But this year’s festivities were muted. Belgium is one of the countries in Europe that has been affected worst by the coronavirus pandemic.

Retirement homes were vectors of the virus and more than half of the deceased, comprising 11,066 people, were retirement home residents.

A regional health spokesman said there is no suggestion that the volunteer knew he was infected with COVID-19 when he came to the home.