No Christmas hug for Granny: Families in Tier 4 are banned from ‘close contact’ care home visits – as relatives brand decision a ‘cruel tragedy’

  • Care homes in Tier 4 areas will not allow hand-holding or hugs, guidance says
  • Visits in T4 can only take place with screens in place or with similar measures
  • New strain of coronavirus has sparked fears about the safety of family visits

Care homes in Tier 4 areas will not allow hand-holding or hugs for those visiting their elderly relatives amid new restrictions banning close contact.  

Department of Health and Social Care guidance says visits to homes in zones with the highest level of restrictions can only take place with substantial screens in place, through windows or in visiting pods.  

Vic Rayner, executive director of the National Care Forum, said the move was ‘deeply distressing for residents and their loved ones’.

It was also a ‘huge blow to all care providers who have spent the last week preparing to enable meaningful visits and spending time on training on the use of lateral flow devices’, he told the Guardian.

Judy Downey, chair of the Relatives & Residents Association, said the cancellation was an ‘incremental tragedy’ and ‘hopes have been got up so cruelly’.

Elderly people in a Sheffield care home have been provided with lab-style hugging sleeves so they can embrace their loved ones during the UK’s second lockdown. Pictured: 94-year-old resident Eve using the ‘visiting nook’ in November

She admitted there may be a higher risk of infection in care homes but said that some families ‘are no longer being recognised’.

She added: ‘Spouses are going in and the person turns their face away and says: ”Who is that?” ‘

The highly infectious new strain of coronavirus has sparked fears about the safety of family visits outside the Tier 4 areas. 

Vic Rayner said that a number of people with care needs cancelled home care visits because they had planned to be with their families, which could have a ‘monumental impact’ due to how far in advance rotas have to be made.  

Ministers had pledged to make hugging and hand-holding a possibility in care homes by Christmas through the rollout of rapid lateral flow testing for visitors. 

Care homes in areas not hit by the strict Tier 4 restrictions are still being asked to let physical contact meetings go ahead by using PPE and lateral flow testing to halt the virus spreading as much as feasibly possible. 

Two visitors should be allowed twice a week for residents using testing, the government guidance says.    

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that the new variant of Covid-19 could overwhelm the NHS thanks to it being up to 70 per cent more transmissible than previous strains.

The Government has continually pushed a narrative that the NHS must be protected throughout the pandemic, with doctors saying there were more than 100,000 unfilled staff vacancies before the crisis even began.   

New analysis revealed a third of major hospital trusts in England currently have more Covid-19 patients than at the peak of the first wave of the virus – with the figure rising to more than half in the East and South West.

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