For the first time since March, Britons may visit their elderly relatives inside care homes — provided they consent to take a test for Chinese coronavirus and prove negative.
There have been several stories in the media of seniors and their family members pleading with national and regional governments to change the rules allowing visits in care homes, with Britons warning their elderly relatives were deteriorating without their contact. For the past nine months, visits could only be conducted through windows, with no hugging, hand-holding, or kissing allowed.
The government announced on Tuesday that from Wednesday and over Christmas, families and friends will be allowed to visit their loved ones, provided they submit to a coronavirus test and wear medical personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, according to The Times. The move was first trialled in 20 care homes in the south of England for two weeks before the rollout.
One million tests will be sent out to residential care home facilities over the following month, with the government saying “it may be possible for visitors to have physical contact with their loved one, such as providing personal care, holding hands and a hug, although contact should be limited”.
The resumption of visits to facilities across the world has revealed some of the dystopian measures being enforced worldwide. In El Salvador, family members have been photographed covered head to toe in medical gear hugging their loved ones through plastic hugging sheets. Italian centres have installed so-called “hug rooms” with the protective sheets, or have placed their elderly in perspex boxes with only cut-outs for gloved hands to pass through.
According to The Times, earlier guidance had suggested such ‘prison-style screens’ would be recommended in British care homes, but the new guidance has reportedly avoided that route, saying instead that “all care homes — regardless of tier and except in the event of an active outbreak — should seek to enable indoor visits where the visitor has been tested and returned a negative result”.
In the UK, enough tests and PPE will be provided to allow each resident two visitors twice a week. However, some care homes operators and organisations warn that the tests might not all be rolled out in time for seniors to have a visit before Christmas, according to The Guardian. Some councils may also decide to make their own visitation rules, such as Liverpool council, which is demanding visitors take two tests 24 hours apart before being allowed to see their relatives.
The announcement comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that people should get tested before visiting older relatives living independently, once restrictions on households mixing are temporarily lifted over Christmas.
Government scientists have sought to frighten Britons over the prospect of getting close to their loved ones, with England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty telling people not to hug their elderly relatives at Christmas “if you want them to survive to be hugged again”.