Covid: Care home visitors cut to three to slow Omicron spread

By Jennifer Meierhans
BBC News

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Care home visitorsImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Three named people must be nominated to visit their loved one in a care home in England

Care home residents in England will be allowed only three visitors and an essential care giver under new guidance to slow the spread of Omicron.

The Department of Health said the measures, which begin on Wednesday, were "to balance the current Covid-19 risk and the need to keep people safe".

Vaccination teams are being deployed to give residents and staff booster jabs.

And staff will have to take three lateral flow tests a week as well as a weekly PCR test under the guidance.

An extra £300m is being made available to recruit and retain care workers, the Department of Health said.

The Omicron variant has led to infections doubling every two to three days and estimates by the UK Health Security Agency show 10,000 cases with increased transmissibility.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said more booster jabs and fewer care home visitors "will help keep the most vulnerable people in our society safe from the virus this winter".

Nadra Ahmed, chair of the National Care Association, said she was waiting for clarity on whether the three named visitors can be changed. She also wanted to know if three people could visit at the same time and if they had to be from the same household.

She told BBC Breakfast: "They would have to take a lateral flow test, we can't ask about the vaccination status of visitors, so we'll wait and see whether that comes out."

She said one case of Omicron would cause a care home to close to all visitors.

Dr Sanjay Kaushal, chairman of Castlemeadow care home in Norwich, said he would be "really sad" if the home had to close due to an Omicron case as residents and their families had missed contact most in lockdown.

Fully vaccinated residents visiting family and friends outside the care home will be asked to take a lateral flow test on alternate days for two weeks after each outing. Those not vaccinated will have to isolate following an outside visit.

Image source, Julie Worsfold
Image caption,
Julie Worsfold is concerned she will not be able to visit her mother in a care home daily after the new guidelines

Julie Worsfold from Droitwich told BBC Radio 5Live that last September she took the "difficult decision" to move her parents, who had been married for 75 years, into a care home.

"I was one of the millions of people all across the country that was stood outside a big window trying to wave at them," she said.

"I didn't get to cuddle them, kiss them, tell them I love them for nearly three months. In January this year my beloved dad passed away with a carer either side holding his hand. That should have been mum and myself."

Ms Worsfield visits her mother every day and is also able to take her home once a week, as long as they do lateral flow tests every time they see one another.

She said her "great concern" is if daily visits are stopped they will not be able to see one another through a window as her mother lives on a lower ground floor.

"Mum has already explained to the care home that if she can't see me she's just going to give up and go downhill and that causes me great anxiety and worry," she said.