Care home visits from a nominated friend or relative will be permitted in England from today – but hugging and kissing residents is still off limits.
Every care home resident will be able to nominate someone to visit them indoors, while residents with the highest care needs can receive more frequent visits from a loved one who will provide essential care and support.
Visitors will have to carry out COVID-19 tests prior to the visits, wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and be asked to keep physical contact to a minimum.
Hugs and kisses will not be allowed to help curb the chance of spreading the virus, but handholding will be permitted, according to the latest visiting guidance by the government.
Visiting is not conditional on the resident or visitor having been vaccinated, but it is “strongly recommended”.
Outdoor visits, window visits and those in pods should continue so residents can see other loved ones, the guidance adds.
Nominated visitors will not be permitted to enter care homes where there are COVID-19 outbreaks, the guidance states.
But visitors providing essential care, and visits when the resident is at the end of their life, can continue.
Latest surveillance data from Public Health England shows there were 230 suspected respiratory outbreaks in care homes reported in the week ending 28 February – 167 of which involved at least one confirmed case of COVID-19.
It is approximately one year since some care homes first closed their doors, several weeks ahead of the first lockdown on 23 March.
Visiting guidance has changed several times over the past year, and visiting opportunities have varied across the country, with some areas in local lockdowns.
Some indoor visits resumed in December as rapid-result tests were rolled out to care homes, however this was not permitted during the current lockdown.
The opening up of care homes is part of the government’s first step in easing restrictions as the road map out of lockdown gets under way.
The government will decide whether to extend the number of visitors to two per resident at step two of its road map and no earlier than 12 April.
While campaigners have welcomed the resumption of visits, some say the new guidance does not go far enough.
The Relatives & Residents Association wants the Care Quality Commission to go further and proactively monitor how care homes are complying with guidance.
Director Helen Wildbore said: “The new guidance lacks the teeth necessary to ensure the prime minister’s promise to reunite older people with their families becomes a reality.
“Instead the government continue to pass the buck on to care providers without providing the clarity and direction needed to make sure this happens.”
The Alzheimer’s Society said the resumptions of visits “couldn’t have come soon enough” following months of families watching their loved ones through windows and screens.
James White, head of public affairs and campaigns, said: “Close contact indoor visits must be the default position – so it’s good the government has been clear that blanket bans on visiting are not acceptable.
“We’ve campaigned for many months to ensure family carers are recognised as essential to the care of people with dementia.”
He added: “We’ll be monitoring the situation very carefully to ensure all types of permitted visits are happening, and look for them to be extended to more family members at the earliest possible opportunity.”