Thousands of care homes across England will be given free iPads to help residents keep in touch with family in the face of rising coronavirus cases.
Up to 11,000 iPads will be given to care homes to let residents video call their relatives, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced.
Families were allowed to see their relatives in care homes in July after months of being banned from visiting.
However limits are now being placed on visits to protect vulnerable elderly people as infection rates soar.
Visitors to care homes in areas with high rates of coronavirus will be constantly supervised, under the Government’s adult social care winter action plan.
And visits will be banned in lockdown areas, except in “exceptional circumstances”.
The new £7.5million giveaway of iPads will be a “gateway” for people to keep in touch with loved ones, Mr Hancock said.
He said: “With coronavirus cases rising the need for infection control measures and social distancing is more important than ever for those living and working in care homes.
“However I know how challenging the current situation is staff, residents and families, particularly when loved ones can’t visit.
“These tablets will be the gateway for so many residents to connect with loved ones, and allow staff to quickly access digital NHS services and information, to help stop Covid-19 outbreaks in their tracks.”
The devices will also be used for video consultations with medical professionals where possible, allow care home staff to reorder medications on behalf of residents and update information in their GP records as well as use the secure NHS internal email service.
The new iPads will be prioritised for care homes that do not have enough devices, or struggle with their internet connection.
Care minister Helen Whately acknowledged the technology cannot replace a hug but hoped it could help some families keep in touch.
She said: “I have heard from many people about the pain of not being able to visit, not being able to hug or even hold the hand of their husband or wife, father or mother.
“I know iPads won’t solve this problem and connecting via a device doesn’t work for everyone, but it will help some families stay in touch.
“Some care homes have also found remote consultations with GPs really valuable during the pandemic, so for those who don’t have the devices to do so, these iPads will make a difference.”
Conservative peer Baroness Ros Altmann called for greater accountability over the sector, telling the Sunday Express it was “beyond belief” care homes do not have the testing “that they desperately need”.
“It is clear that the system is not working but we don’t know why. Everyone is blaming everyone else. So we need parliamentary accountability,” she said.