Weekly coronavirus deaths in care homes have fallen to their lowest levels since the pandemic began, according to official data.
Latest Office for National Statistics figures showed 10 residents died from the virus in England and Wales in the week ending June 25. For comparison, the lowest figure until now was 12 in the final week of May.
At the peak of the initial outbreak, more than 3,000 care home residents were dying from the virus every week at the end of April last year.
Levels only dropped to double-digits during the summer, when the country enjoyed a lull in the spread of the virus.
But they spiked again to more than 2,000 a week at the peak of the second wave in winter when the Kent ‘Alpha’ variant burned through the population.
Experts hope Britain’s hugely successful vaccination roll-out, which prioritised care home residents when it began in December, will prevent the sector from being hit hard by Covid once again as cases continue to soar.
Boris Johnson yesterday announced he would tear up the limit on how many visitors care home residents are allowed on Freedom Day in two weeks time.
But stringent requirements to wear face masks and other PPE when visiting relatives are set to remain in place throughout the summer.
More than 42,500 care home residents have died from coronavirus in England and Wales since the pandemic began.
There were ten Covid deaths recorded among care home residents last week (right), the lowest number since the pandemic began. They are illustrated in the graph throughout the pandemic
Just one per cent of fatalities were also linked to Covid across the country. The Office for National Statistics said 99 out of 8,690 fatalities involved the virus
What are the rules for visiting care homes?
Care homes have several rules in place for visiting, which came into force after the latest lockdown easing in May.
Visitors are required to take a lateral flow test for the virus upon arrival — which take up to 30 minutes to give results.
They are also asked to wear PPE such as aprons, gloves and face masks.
Care home residents are allowed up to five named visitors, with up to two visits from different members of this group a day.
They are also permitted to leave the homes for overnight stays and to go to hospital, but must isolate for two weeks upon their return.
The ONS report said fewer than one in 100 deaths among care home residents were sparked by Covid last week.
They recorded 1,839 fatalities among residents from all causes, and only 10 of these were linked to the virus.
Overall, coronavirus deaths last week were down by more than half on the 21 recorded in the previous seven-day period.
Deaths from all causes were 20 per cent below the five-year average for the number of deaths expected at this time of year.
Experts said this was to be expected because Covid had killed many people earlier than they otherwise would have died without catching the virus.
Broken down, there were two deaths in care homes in both the North West of England and West Midlands.
Five English regions — the North East, Yorkshire, East Midlands, London, South West and East of England — all registered just one care home Covid death.
There were none recorded in the South East and Wales.
Mr Johnson announced yesterday the limit on the number of visitors would be abandoned in the final step of the lockdown-ending roadmap on July 19.
But he said other rules including PPE would remain in place.
The Department of Health said that care homes would follow a more ‘step by step’ approach to easing lockdown because residents are significantly more vulnerable to Covid than everyone else.
Current restrictions allow residents to have up to five named family members or friends visit, and up to two visits a day.
They are also permitted to leave their homes for overnight stays elsewhere, although they will be asked to isolate for two weeks upon their return.
Family members and friends are required to get a negative lateral flow test result on the day of their visit to the home, and wear PPE while in the homes.
Boris Johnson said yesterday visiting rules will be ditched in a fortnight, if scientific advisers say it is safe for ministers to press ahead with Freedom Day (The PM is pictured at the Downing Street press conference where he made the announcement)
Care minister Helen Whately said yesterday ahead of the announcement that face masks would still be required in homes after Freedom Day.
Asked how care home visits will change on Freedom Day, Ms Whately told Sky News: ‘I don’t think visiting will completely go back to normal.
‘There will still have to be some precautions.
‘It’s step by step, getting things as close to normal as we can, while still protecting people who are at greater risk from Covid.’
Speaking on Times Radio later, she added visitors and staff would likely still be required to wear face masks.
She said: ‘I’ll be looking at the guidance, I’ll be making a judgement, but I’m not keen to wear one when I don’t need one — personally, it’s not something I enjoy doing.
‘But I’m also really aware that there will be circumstances, I’m expecting to continue in health and social care clearly, where people will need to continue to wear PPE, which includes masks.’
Care homes have been effectively in lockdown since, with family members banned from seeing and hugging their loved ones for months.
Ministers were accused of ‘throwing care homes to the wolves’ during the initial outbreak last spring. Tens of thousands of hospital patients were discharged into the homes without being tested for the virus.