Nursing home residents in England will be allowed a second regular indoor visit from April 12, the government has announced – while babies and toddlers will also be able to attend.
Infants and children are not counted as one of the two designated visitors, which means that for the first time in months, residents will be able to see tiny blisters from relatives or friends again.
The Department of Health and Social Welfare (DHSC) said the decline in infections in the community and the rapid roll-out of vaccines means attendance levels may increase, as outlined in the government’s roadmap.
Visitors are allowed to hold hands, but personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn.
A negative rapid cross-flow test is also required of adult visitors before entry is permitted. However, some are allowed to do their tests at home so that more visits can take place.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Reuniting family and friends has been a priority every time restrictions have been eased and the next step will be no different.
“I’m especially excited to bring more visitors, including grandchildren, to residents, given the isolation and concern so many have felt over the past year.
“Thanks to the tireless work of the nursing home staff and the success of the vaccine implementation, we can increase visits in a safe and controlled manner.”
The DHSC said that outdoor visits, pods and screens at nursing home residents can continue as before.
Nursing Secretary Helen Whately said, “Our goal is to make nursing home visits as normal as possible by the summer.
“We know how cruel this virus can be in nursing homes so we need to keep tracking the science and data, but things are looking good.”
The system of basic care, in which relatives or specially trained assistants of residents with particularly complex needs have better access to a home, will also be continued.
Mike Padgham, chairman of the Independent Care Group (ICG), welcomed the announcement – but called for restrictions to be relaxed to include home travel for residents over 65.
This is currently prohibited unless there are “exceptional circumstances”.
Mr Padgham said: “It is hard to object to a group of over 65s going out in a minibus to enjoy a change of scene and some fresh air, for example, provided they are careful.
“We want the government to give better guidance on this in the future.”
He added that families with nursing homes need to be patient as they figure out how to manage the testing process and organize visits as safely as possible.