BRITS could be allowed to hold hands with elderly loved ones again within weeks under plans to open up care home visits, a minister declared today.
Care minister Helen Whately said the "tremendous pace" of vaccinations means visiting rules for residential homes could soon be relaxed.
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While some exceptional care home visits are currently allowed, many people have been unable to see their loved ones for almost a year.
But with the jabs rollout now topping 16 million people, Ms Whately said she "really, really wants" to reunite families again.
And she insisted that could happen before care home residents have had their second jab – raising the prospect of rules being eased within weeks.
She said: "What I want to do as we come out of the national lockdown is increase the amount of visiting.
"I don't see that we have to wait for the second vaccination dose. I want us to open up sooner than that.
"But I will say with this, as generally as we come out of lockdown, we do have to be cautious.
"Most residents in care homes have only had their first dose and some of them only very recently, so it will be step by step.
"But I'm determined we can see people go back, if it's to be able to hold hands again and to see somebody you haven't been able to see very much in the last few months and over the last year.
"I really want to make that happen again."
Ms Whately said as the lockdown is eased she wants to see care home visits become "more like normal".
Under the plans residential homes would be able to use mass rapid testing to check visitors for the virus.
And once inside families would still have to wear protective equipment, like face masks.
But current rules that prevent physical contact by putting a screen between visitors and their loved ones could be relaxed.
Ms Whately said: "I know that it doesn't always work to have a visit through a screen – it can be confusing.
"They want to hold hands, and that's why we want to move beyond that, use testing, but we still need to be careful.
"People living in a care home, the thing that makes it worth living is to be able to see their family members.
The Care Minister said she expects further details on visits to be given in the PM's speech on the roadmap out of lockdown next Monday.
Ms Whately also urged staff who work in care homes to come forward for vaccinations.
The latest figures show only two-thirds have done so, which is a much lower proportion than among both NHS workers and the wider population.
She said: "It's really important for our health and social care workforce to get vaccinated
"We are seeing really strong take up of that as vaccination teams go back round the care homes we're seeing more staff coming forward and getting vaccinated."
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