The man fell ill and tested positive for COVID-19 three days after the visit, which led to residents getting tested. He was said to be distraught after learning that he was responsible for the wave of infections in local media reports.

Photos from the visit on social media showed that although he wore a mask as part of his outfit, not all of the residents did. They also show that social distancing rules did not appear to be respected.

Wim Caeyers, the mayor of Mol, said: “It has been a very black day for the care home. It is a very great mental strain to bear for the man that played St Nicholas, as well as for the organisers and the staff.” He said the home was “totally irresponsible” after initially claiming that all restrictions were observed.

“Now [we must] wait to see how great the devastation is,” Cathy Berx, the Antwerp governor, told the Gazet van Antwerpen newspaper. “Previously, there was no problem with coronavirus infections in the nursing home, so there is no doubt that the visit of the saint caused the infections. “

A spokesman for Armonea, the firm which manages the home, said: “The team is very shocked by what happened, but that also makes them very motivated to get the virus out again.”

However, one of Belgium’s leading virologists doubted the man could be responsible for so many cases.

“Even for a super-spreader, these are too many at once,” said Marc Van Ranst of the Rega Institute for Medical Research.

Telegraph, London

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