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COVID-19: Care home visits with hand-holding to be allowed as first step on PM’s roadmap out of lockdown

Written by on 20 February 2021

Care home residents in England will be able to hold hands with one named visitor starting from 8 March, the government has announced.

Those inside facilities will be able to have one person who can regularly come to see them – and while hand-holding will be allowed, hugging and kissing will not.

It is the first part of the prime minister’s “roadmap” to ease the coronavirus lockdown to be announced.

Regular visiting will also resume in Scottish care homes from early March, with residents allowed to have two designated visitors each.

Care home visits have been tightly restricted during the pandemic.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed the England move as a “first step to getting back to where we want to be”.

Visitors will have to take a lateral flow test before entering the home, and will have to wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

However, there have been concerns of lateral flow tests being used for so-called “greenlighting”, as it has been argued they trade speed for accuracy.

Prime minister Boris Johnson speaks with health worker Wendy Warren as he puts on a pair of medical gloves during a visit to a vaccination centre at Cwmbran Stadium in Cwmbran, south Wales Image: It is the first step on Boris Johnson’s ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown

Professor Deborah Sturdy, the chief nurse for adult social care, said: “I know how much people want to visit, hug and kiss their loved ones but doing so can put lives at risk so we would ask people to continue to follow the rules.

“This is a first step towards resuming indoor visits and we all hope to be able to take further steps in the future.

“I am pleased as a result of so many people following the rules we are in a position to increase visits and hope this is just the start.”

The rule change comes after the government met its target to offer all care home residents, as well as social care and NHS staff, a vaccine by 15 February.

A care home resident talks to local GP staff after receiving an injection of the coronavirus vaccine at Andrew Cohen House in Birmingham.  Image: The government reached its target to offer all care home residents a vaccine by 15 February

Mr Hancock said: “I know how important visiting a loved one is and I’m pleased we will soon be in a position for people to be carefully and safely reunited with loved ones who live in care homes.

“This is just the first step to getting back to where we want to be. We need to make sure we keep the infection rate down, to allow greater visiting in a step by step way in the future.”

Shadow health and social care minister Liz Kendall said: “For the last seven months, backed by Labour and charities, families have been calling for care home visits to start again and to be treated as key workers with access to all the PPE and testing they need.

“Over this period ministers have repeatedly failed to grasp how important families are for the physical and mental health of care home residents and the appalling impact preventing visits has caused.

“Never again must families be denied the right to visit their loved ones in care homes. To have any confidence that things will really change, we need legislation to enshrine residents’ rights to visits and end the scandal of blanket visiting bans.”

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‘Inhumane’ to prevent care home visits

In Scotland, each designated visitor will be able to see their relative once a week, due to the progress of the vaccination programme.

They will also be “strongly recommended” to take a coronavirus test on-site and will have to wear PPE.

Boris Johnson will set out the blueprint for relaxing the current coronavirus rules in England on Monday.

As part of the relaxations, families and friends look set to be allowed to gather in parks and gardens by Easter with rules relaxed to allow two different households to meet outside.

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Schools also look set to reopen to all pupils from 8 March, with several newspapers reporting that both primary and secondaries will return in just over three weeks.

The move comes despite a coalition of education unions and professional bodies warning a full return of all pupils would be a “reckless” course of action.

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