Care home residents in England can begin to be reunited with one of their loved ones, the government has said, as it publishes new guidance.
Visits will resume in care homes once local authorities and local public health directors say it is safe.
Residents will be limited to seeing the same one visitor, where possible, the guidance says.
Some providers began allowing outdoor, socially-distanced visits in June, in the absence of government guidelines.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was now possible to “carefully and safely” allow visits to care homes, while taking into account “local knowledge and circumstances for each care home”.
People in registered residential care and those in nursing homes for people with learning disabilities, mental health or other disabilities in England will also be able to welcome visitors under the same guidance.
The government said visits could resume after the rate of community transmission of coronavirus had fallen, but staff, residents and visitors should observe its guidance to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.
It says care providers should consider whether visits could take place outside, without people having to go through a shared building, and visitors should stick to social distancing guidance and avoid hugs or handshakes.
Ad hoc visits should be discouraged and providers should collect contact details of visitors to support NHS Test and Trace, the guidance says.
Visitors should also be encouraged to wear a face covering and risk assessments must be carried out before homes reopen.
Gifts for residents should be easy to clean by care home staff. “It is unlikely that they will be able to bring flowers but a box of chocolates that could be sanitised with wipes would be allowed,” the guidance says.
Care England, the country’s largest representative body for independent providers of adult social care, said it was “disappointed” the guidance had come so late.
Chief executive Professor Martin Green said: “This guidance should have been with care providers last month.
“We are at a loss to understand why the Department of Health and Social Care cannot act quickly in a crisis or why it is deaf to the comments and input from the sector.”
It comes as the UK recorded the deaths of another 79 people who tested positive for coronavirus, taking the total number of deaths to 45,501.
‘Mum needs reassurance and affection’
Lesley Lightfoot says not being able to be with her mum Blumah, who has Parkinson’s dementia, during lockdown has been “the most painful thing I’ve ever been through”.
For months, she stood outside her mum’s north London care home, talking to her through a ground floor window. In recent weeks, the home has allowed some outdoor visits.
But Ms Lightfoot wants clarity on whether the latest guidelines mean she’ll be able to see her mum indoors.
“To be able to see her outside doesn’t solve my problem. I need to get in and be with her in her room,” she says, adding that her mum’s mental state has deteriorated with the isolation of lockdown. “She needs the reassurance, the love, the affection, the looking at things with her, the going through things with her.”
The government said it will be down to individual care homes, working with public health officials, to decide whether visits can take place inside people’s rooms.
In Scotland, visits to virus-free homes resumed earlier this month. In Wales, outdoor visits are allowed and in Northern Ireland, one person can visit a resident, with a second person accommodated “where possible”.
Sue Parker from Ovingham, Northumberland, who has a 29-year-old son with autism and OCD, welcomed the guidance but said it would not help in her case as it isn’t an option to visit her son in his residential care home.
She explained he would not tolerate relatives visiting his care home and would only accept leaving to his family home – something he did most weekends before the pandemic.
“It seems throughout that it has been a blanket one-size-fits-all policy [for social care], with a focus on the elderly and frail,” she said, adding that the new guidance seemed to be “disproportionate” for her son, given that he is young and physically fit.
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