Covid: What are the care home visiting rules and how are they changing?

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Restrictions for visiting friends and family in care homes in England are due to be lifted on 19 July.

Rules have already eased in recent months across the UK, but there are still measures in place to stop the spread of Covid.

How will the care home rules change in England?

As part of the move to stage four of the roadmap out of lockdown, the government says there will be no limits on social contact in England after 19 July, subject a review of the latest Covid health data on 12 July.

As part of this, the current rules limiting care home visitors will be lifted.

More guidance will be published, setting out how to make visits as normal as possible while keeping residents and staff safe.

Care homes will also need to keep some health and safety measures in place.

In addition all adult care home residents are likely to receive a booster Covid vaccination dose in the autumn.

What are the rules at the moment?

In England, care home residents can choose up to five regular visitors, although no more than two should come together or in one day.

If a resident isn't well enough to choose visitors, care homes can decide with their family.

Residents can also nominate an "essential care giver", who doesn't count in the daily visitor limit. They can even visit during coronavirus outbreaks, and are offered personal protective equipment (PPE) and additional testing.

In Scotland, residents can see up to two "designated" visitors indoors. "Essential" visitors are also allowed in so-called "pressing circumstances" such as a deterioration in health. Garden and window visits are also supported.

In Wales, anyone can visit, but no more than two people at a time indoors.

In Northern Ireland, residents can have three indoor visitors per week, including children - limited to two at a time and lasting up to an hour.

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image captionMost care homes currently require a rapid test to be taken before entry

What precautions do visitors have to take?

Different care homes have different booking systems, so visitors must check with the individual care home before visiting.

They may have extra restrictions in place, particularly if there have been recent cases of coronavirus.

Nobody should visit a care home if they have symptoms, have tested positive for Covid, or are a close contact of someone who has.

You don't have to be vaccinated, although the government recommends that everyone should take the jab.

Nominated visitors in England, Wales and Scotland must take lateral flow tests organised by the home, and wait 30 minutes for the result before seeing the resident.

If the visitor tests positive, they should return home, self-isolate and take a PCR test.

Visitors in Northern Ireland are asked to take a test three days before their visit, and another on the day.

Can I hug my relative?

Guidance in England advises that visitors and residents "keep physical contact to a minimum". There should be no close physical contact such as hugging although hand-holding may be allowed.

Ideally, visitors should keep a 2m (6ft) distance from residents.

Similar guidance has been issued in Wales and Northern Ireland.

In Scotland, brief hugs are allowed as long as masks are worn. "Designated visitors" can help with parts of residents' personal care such as brushing their hair.

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Do I need to wear a face covering?

Visitors are asked to wear face coverings in care homes across the UK, and to wear more PPE if required.

In some circumstances, such as for residents with dementia, visitors might not be easily recognised with face coverings.

The guidance says that to help, visitors should speak clearly and keep eye contact. Clear visors can be used instead of face coverings.

If possible, care homes should prepare residents for a visit by showing them photographs or reminding them of stories related to the visitor.

Can residents leave the care home?

Guidance for care providers in England says residents can leave for social reasons, including overnight stays.

They don't need to self-isolate on their return unless they've had an overnight stay in hospital, or the visit is considered high risk.

Visits outside care homes can take place in Wales, subject to a risk assessment.

Trips away are also possible in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and there should normally be no requirement to isolate on the resident's return.

In Scotland, care homes are also encouraged to allow overnight stays, with a risk assessment. Residents are not required to self-isolate on their return.