Close-contact indoor visits to care homes have been banned in large parts of the country after the government introduced new strict rules on Sunday.
Tier 4 rules introduced to combat the spread of a new strain of coronavirus in London, the south-east and the east of England mean that visits must now take place behind screens or in visiting pods.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We know visiting restrictions in care homes have been very difficult for residents, their families and staff and we have done everything we can to safely enable visits and reunite loved ones.
“In the face of a new variant of the virus, we have acted to protect those most at risk in care homes.
“Visits to care homes can still take place in Tier 4 with arrangements such as substantial screens or visiting pods but, for the safety of loved ones, close-contact indoor visits supported by testing cannot take place in Tier 4 areas.”
The Department of Health & Social Care said all care homes, regardless of Tier, and except in the event of an active outbreak – should still seek to enable outdoor visiting and screened visits.
Care homes in Tier 1, 2 and 3, should enable indoor visits where the visitor has been tested and returned a negative result, accept in the event of an active outbreak.
Judy Downey, chair of the Relatives & Residents Association, told The Guardian the banning of physical contact was an “incremental tragedy”.
Vic Rayner, executive director of the National Care Forum, said the move was a “huge blow to all care providers who have spent the last week preparing to enable meaningful visits and spending time on training on the use of lateral flow devices”.