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UK care homes to allow visitors despite heading into second nationwide lockdown

As the UK heads back into a month-long lockdown, and cases of COVID-19 soar across the nation, the government has advised that aged care homes can now accept visitors.

Daily cases of the virus have soared to 20,000-plus, with deaths climbing to 492 on November 4, the highest figure since April when over a thousand people were dying every day.

The UK has had 1.2 million cases of coronavirus since the pandemic began with approximately 48,000 deaths. Some estimates say that at least 20,000 of those deaths have occurred in aged care homes – which house approximately 400,000 elderly people.

Between March 2 and June 12, 2020, there were 66,112 deaths of care home residents in England and Wales. 19,394 (or 29 per cent) are officially attributed to COVID‐19. Statistics also show that the mortality rate of care home residents in England and Wales from 28th December 2019 to 12th June 2020 was 45.9 per cent up on the same period the previous year.

As the second lockdown was announced, the aged care sector put pressure on the Tory government to leave any visitation bans to individual homes.

An open letter, signed by 60 organisations, researchers, professionals and other supporters and brought together by the National Care Forum, was delivered to health minister Matt Hancock. It urged the government to, among other measures, “fully support testing of visitors to help the management of the virus” and “Enable designation of one person, as a minimum, per resident as a ‘key visitor’ who is eligible for regular testing, PPE and training alongside the care home staff, so they can visit frequently and for longer”.

The group stressed that care homes were better equipped to make decisions on their residents’ behalf and now have more knowledge of the virus after spending most of 2020 battling outbreaks.

Hancock had previously said visitor bans would stay in place in lockdown 2, but, according to the Guardian, eight hours before the lockdown was due to begin the department of health made a last-minute U-turn.

Homes were given guidelines on how to safely allow visits, including “using COVID-secure visiting areas/pods with floor to ceiling screens and windows where the visitor and resident enter through different entrances, are separated by screens and visitors do not need to enter or pass through the care home”.

Homes will also be encouraged to allow visits at windows, so visitors don’t have to enter the home or “where the visitor remains in their car”. Outdoor visits are also allowed, where visitors do not have to enter the building to access the area.

“I know how heart-breaking and incredibly frustrating it has been for families and friends who haven’t been able to see their loved ones during the pandemic,” Hancock said.

“Care homes should feel empowered by this new guidance to look at safe options to allow visits to care homes that suit their residents and facilities. We’ve seen some really innovative solutions used to help families see each other safely, face-to-face, which has been life-changing for some.”

The Alzheimer’s Society described the idea of “prison style screens” as “ridiculous”.

Labour’s shadow care minister Liz Kendall said many homes would not be able to facilitate the government measures, leaving thousands of residents cut off from loved ones. She urged the government to consider the recommendation that one visitor be designated as a key worker, as reported by the BBC.

Back in April the WHO said that half of all coronavirus deaths in Europe occurred in aged care.

In the US, the data suggests that about 1 in 20 elder-care residents have died of COVID-19 during the pandemic and in Canada, 80 per cent of COVID-19 deaths have been in long term care.

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