Coronavirus: Hospital and care home visits resume in NI

a nurse Rebecca, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), changes the dressings on the legs of an elderly woman during a home visit.Image source, PA/Daniel Leal-Olivas

People in Northern Ireland are able to visit loved ones in hospital for the first time in months as part of further easing of lockdown.

Visiting rules at hospitals and care homes have been eased, with birth partners also allowed at maternity appointments.

The Department of Health said the revised guidance balances "the ongoing risk from Covid-19".

Barbers, hair and beauty salons are also permitted to reopen.

From Monday, at hospitals, one visitor will be allowed per patient in general wards and intensive care units.

In care homes that are free from the virus, one person can visit at any one time, with a second person accommodated "where possible".

Visitors to both hospitals and care homes will have to wear a face covering.

The department said decisions on allowing visitors will be made on a day-to-day basis by either the nurse in charge or the care home manager.

Birth partners will now be allowed to accompany women to a range of appointments, including pregnancy scans and for the duration of labour and birth.

Image source, PA/Katie Collins

The guidance also enables partners to visit in antenatal and postnatal wards.

The changes follow a review headed up by the chief nursing officer, Prof Charlotte McArdle.

The department said the public should be mindful of the "logistical challenges facing trusts and care homes" as they deal with more visitors while also countering the threat of coronavirus.

Close-contact businesses, such as hairdressers and nail salons have also reopened, with many taking pre-bookings for appointments.

The revised guidance means spas, tattoo parlours, holistic therapies, massage and reflexology providers have also been able to resume trading from Monday.

It came as the latest figures from the Department of Health showed there have been no further coronavirus-related deaths in Northern Ireland over the weekend. Its death toll still stands at 554.

The department's daily figures are mostly comprised of hospital deaths and where a patient had previously tested positive for the virus.

The latest figures on the department's dashboard show the total number of confirmed positive cases of the virus now stands at 5,756, with nine positive tests recorded over the weekend.

On Friday, 3 July, changes to the regulations allowed a range of sectors to reopen, including hotels, bars, restaurants, zoos, museums, galleries and bookmakers.

The NI Executive said: "Organisations should proceed at a speed which is safe and appropriate for their individual sites."

Image source, PA Media

Later on Monday, the NI Executive is expected to discuss how to respond to the relaxation of quarantine requirements in England, where the government has agreed to open travel corridors to nearly 60 holiday destinations.

These discussions will continue despite the tensions within the executive over Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill's attendance at the funeral of senior IRA figure Bobby Storey last week.

New Covid-19 awareness campaign

Meanwhile, the Public Health Agency (PHA) has launched a new media campaign to raise awareness of Covid-19 symptoms and the importance of testing and contact tracing in limiting the virus' spread.

The campaign will include advertisements on TV, radio and online.

"I would encourage everyone to spread the word, to family and friends and on social media," said Health Minister Robin Swann.

"Test, trace and protect is an essential part of the battle against COVID-19. It will help keep people safe and protect our health service.

"Everyone has a role to play. That includes getting tested early if you have symptoms, helping contact tracing by providing details of contacts, and self-isolating when required in order to protect others."

Dr Gerry Waldron, head of health protection at the PHA, added that "testing and contact tracing will help break the chain of transmission of the virus".