Elderly care home residents may be allowed to visit their families during England’s Christmas lockdown break, the Cabinet Office has suggested.
Ministers have announced a pause in coronavirus rules between December 23 to 27 which will allow three households to spend the festive period indoors together.
Current guidance says that the bubbles do not apply to elderly people living in care homes, who are the most vulnerable to falling critically ill with Covid-19.
But a spokesman for the Cabinet Office claimed this could be overturned to allow elderly residents to enjoy the same freedoms as the rest of the country.
The official told The Times the updated guidance will not include any specific reference to care homes but that it would also not encourage families to take the risk.
The spokesman added: ‘Care home residents will, like everyone else, be able to take advantage, legally, of the regulations that permit people to form a Christmas bubble, but should follow live guidance on doing so.’
Christmas coronavirus guidance on the Department of Health website currently states: ‘Spending time with others outside the care home will increase risk of exposure to coronavirus for the resident and the other residents in their home on their return, and is likely to place an additional burden on the care home.
‘Given this, visits out of care homes should only be considered for residents of working age.’
It says residents under 65 should only form a bubble with one household, rather than the two legally allowed, as damage limitation.
The guidance adds: ‘Residents, their families and care homes should very carefully consider whether this is the right thing to do or whether visiting at the care home would provide contact in a safer way.
‘If a care home resident does join a household for Christmas they should maintain social distance, wash hands regularly, and let plenty of fresh air into rooms by opening windows and doors.’
Care home residents will be allowed to stay with their families over the Christmas period, the Cabinet Office has suggested
When contacted by MailOnline, the Cabinet Office did not deny that this would be updated to allow care home residents to form Christmas bubbles.
CARE HOMES TOLD TO BAN CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS TO STOP SPREAD OF CORONAVIRUS
Care homes are being told to ban Christmas decorations under pointless ‘bah humbug guidelines’ aimed at reducing the spread of coronavirus.
Experts said there is no scientific evidence that Christmas trees, cards or festive ornaments pose an infection risk.
But some local infection prevention teams have warned care homes to use artificial trees and wipeable, single-use decorations.
Some have also been told cards and decorations should be quarantined for three days before opening, and presents should be brought to homes unwrapped – to be wrapped by staff.
Liz Jones, National Care Forum policy director, said managers and care workers up and down the country were digging out the Christmas decorations, untangling the tinsel and dusting off the baubles in preparations for the holidays.
‘This year, more than any other, the hope and joy of Christmas is needed… But it seems the spectre of infection prevention control overkill lurks,’ she said. ‘We have yet to find any evidence to underpin this latest flurry of bah humbug advice.’
‘While Covid has limited so many things in care homes, surely we can still ‘deck the halls’.
Professor James Naismith from the University of Oxford said he struggled to see how the advice on decorations can ‘meaningfully reduce’ the risk in care homes.
Gavin Terry, from the Alzheimer’s Society, told MailOnline the Government should offer speedy testing to people suffering with dementia if it plans to allow them to go home over the Christmas break.
He said: ‘Access to speedy testing is key should people with dementia be able to leave care homes to spend time with their families, to protect other residents and staff on their return.
‘But we have the tools for this – if we can test whole cities, surely we can test family carers?
‘With just a couple of weeks left of the family carer pilot, we need learnings to be shared now so national rollout can safely reunite families to enjoy precious time together after an utterly appalling year.’
He added: ‘People with dementia and their families are heartbroken after nine long months of isolation, cut off from hugs, chats and the warmth of spending time with the people you most care about.
‘They feel alone and abandoned – even Christmas is too late.’
Professor Martin Green OBE, and chief executive of Care England, told MailOnline that a 100 per cent reliable quick testing regime was needed should residents be allowed to go home for Christmas.
‘In order to facilitate both visiting and people leaving care homes, we must have a 100 per cent reliable quick testing regime,’ he said.
‘It is irresponsible of the Government to issue guidance on visiting without this, and unless we have access to 100 per cent reliable testing care home residents will be at risk.’
Socialising indoors will be banned in all but three areas in England from Wednesday, as the country moves out of the national lockdown into the revamped tiered system.
Care homes have been promised rapid Covid testing kits within weeks so loved ones can visit residents over the festive period.
Officials have written to all care home bosses announcing the rollout of a scheme to ensure proper visits by family members can resume.
However, it’s not clear if the tests will be used to test care home residents before they travel to visit families over Christmas.
Campaigners have hailed the move as ‘brilliant news’ and said it could end ‘nine months of hell’ for distraught families who have been torn apart by cruel visiting restrictions.
For nearly nine months, most have only been able to wave at loved ones through a window or Perspex screen.
But last week Boris Johnson announced that each resident will be granted two designated ‘key visitors’ who are tested regularly to ensure they are not carrying the virus.
Vic Rayner, from the National Care Forum, said: ‘Ultimately it is brilliant news that lateral flow tests will be available to all care homes within weeks.
‘We know this is the right thing to do, but it is important that care homes receive the extra resources they need to facilitate these visits.
‘They will need extra funding to see it through and co-ordinate staffing, testing and PPE for visitors.’
Donna Pierpoint, manager of Broomgrove care home in Sheffield, said she ‘jumped for joy’ when she received the email from the DoH.
‘It’s absolutely amazing news. We’ve not yet been given the dates but have been told we’ll get the tests in the coming weeks.
‘Visitors will still have to wear face masks but this means they will be allowed to hug and hold hands which means everything.
‘It means people can cuddle and hold their loved ones on Christmas Day – I can’t wait to see the smiles on people’s faces.
‘It feels like a big commitment from the Government. The tests only take 20-30 minutes so they can arrive on site and find out almost straight away if they’re negative.’