Video above: Santa brings joy to children during coronavirus stay-home order
Millions of people across Europe are living under restrictions as the continent battles a second wave of coronavirus — but in Belgium, authorities have decreed that one jolly worker is exempt from the rules: Santa Claus.
The country's Health Minister, Frank Vandenbroucke, wrote a letter to St. Nicholas on Thursday assuring him he was exempt from quarantine rules that might interfere with his festive trip.
On Dec. 6 each year, Belgian children wake up and rush to see if St. Nicholas, or Sinterklaas, as he is known in Flemish-speaking parts of the country, has left presents for them.
In some parts of Belgium, tradition has it that St. Nicholas arrives by boat from Spain, and delivers gifts on the evening of Dec. 5.
"As you know, dear St. Nicholas, Spain is in code red. According to the rules, you should therefore stay a few days in quarantine here when you arrive," Vandenbroucke wrote in a letter published in French language newspaper Le Soir.
"However, since we know that you have no time to lose, and that you need every hour to prepare gifts for each child, we have decided to make an exception," the minister wrote, noting that the 17-day boat trip from Spain would count as "more than enough of a quarantine" in this case.
Belgium has now recorded more than half a million cases of COVID-19, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University, while Spain became the fourth European country to surpass 40,000 coronavirus deaths earlier this week.
The minister also added that St. Nicholas would be exempt from the country's curfew, but warned him to maintain social distancing and wear a mask when necessary as he delivered presents.
Vandenbroucke also used the letter to pay homage to Belgian children, who, he said, had "been particularly brave this year."
"Indeed, it is not easy every day: at school, everything has changed; at the moment, they can no longer see their friends, they can no longer indulge in their favorite hobbies. Really, really, it's not cheerful for them. Not to mention that they can't even go and be cuddled by grandpa and grandma to be consoled.
"But still, they hold on, dear St. Nicholas. Not only to protect themselves, but above all to protect others. During these two weeks of vacation, moms and dads are doing their best to take care of them even more, but this year they deserve your visit more than ever. Every child is a hero, and for once, you don't need to check in your big, wise notebook," he wrote.
Santa isn't the only supernatural being to receive an exemption from this year's COVID-19 restrictions — in April, New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, added the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny to the country's list of essential workers.