Care home Covid rules to be relaxed in England allowing more visitors

Care home residents in England will be able to receive unlimited visitors from Monday as the restrictions to tackle the Omicron variant are eased, the Department of Health has said.

Self-isolation periods will be reduced from 14 days to 10 days for those residents who test positive, with further reductions if they test negative on days five and six.

Changes to the testing regime for care workers from 16 February will also see pre-shift lateral flow tests replacing the current system involving weekly asymptomatic PCR tests, while care homes will now have to follow outbreak management rules for 14 rather than 28 days.

The relaxation comes as legal measures requiring masks and Covid passes in England are dropped, although shoppers and commuters in some settings will still be asked to wear face coverings.

From Thursday, face coverings are not required by law in any setting, while a legal requirement for NHS Covid passes for entry to venues such as nightclubs has been scrapped.

The easing of care home restrictions comes as 86.5% of care home residents have now had their booster jab, the DoH said, which provides maximum protection against Omicron, with the latest data from the UK Health Security Agency showing it is 92% effective in preventing hospitalisation two weeks after it is administered.

The safety of care home residents will continue to be the priority and the new measures will ensure there are still robust protections in place to protect them while case rates in the community remain high, the DoH said.

The health and social care secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “I know how vital companionship is to those living in care homes and the positive difference visits make, which is why we continued to allow three named visitors and an essential care giver under plan B measures.

“Thanks to the progress we have made, I am delighted that care home restrictions can now be eased further allowing residents to see more of their loved ones.”

Nadra Ahmed, chair of the National Care Association, said there were still challenges ahead for providers, who were experiencing staff shortages as well as” testing fatigue”.

“This will come with some challenges because the virus is still out there and we also know that up to 50% of services are in outbreak at this moment in time,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“As long as we can do things safely we should be able to do all of the above, with the visiting. I mean nothing should compromise the well being of the individuals mentally or physically. But it is about that safety and the responsibility that is on the provider to made it all happen and keep everybody safe. Those are the worries that we would have.”

The latest rolling back of restrictions follows the dropping of the work from home guidance last week, and advice for face coverings in classrooms for both staff and pupils ended.

While the scrapping of measures have been welcomed by some, others have urged people to “be considerate to those around them” when it comes to choosing to wear a face covering, and to “be respectful” of policies in certain settings.

Both Sainsbury’s and John Lewis said their customers will be asked to wear masks, although the latter acknowledged it will ultimately come down to “personal choice”.