By Gordon Rayner, Political Editor
Care home residents will be allowed visitors by the end of the month, Matt Hancock is due to announce next week, but the easing of restrictions will be done on a case by case basis.
Whitehall sources indicated that care homes will not be obliged to allow visitors, and that local health officials will have the final say on whether they think it is safe to do so.
The ban on visitors will stay in place in Leicester for the time being, and may also remain in other towns if the infection rate is considered too high.
Visitors will be expected to wear face coverings at all times to limit the risk of infection, it is understood.
It came after charities representing people with dementia said the lack of visits from friends and relatives was worsening their state of health.
Mr Hancock, the Health Secretary, has already indicated that an announcement on care homes can be expected within days, and Government sources have indicated that the ban will be lifted before August.
One source described the proposed easing of the ban as “dynamic”, saying it would apply nationwide because hot spots such as Leicester would be left out and it would be up to the managers of individual care homes to decide whether to open their doors.
Local directors of public health will also be involved in decisions on whether care homes in their areas should be opened, with decisions based on the rate of infections in the community, the rate of infections in care homes and whether those rates are going up or down.
Yesterday charities including the Alzheimer’s Society and Dementia UK wrote to Mr Hancock asking the Government to “urgently” address what they call the “hidden catastrophe” in care homes.
The charities say the "enforced separation" has caused a "deterioration" in residents' mental and physical health, in particular those with dementia, who account for more than 70 per cent of care home residents.
Care England, which represents most independent care providers, has said it is “at a loss” to understand why the Department for Health and Social Care has left care homes “in the dark” about arrangements for visitors.
It said new guidance in England is essential and that it is "not right to keep people with care and support needs locked down indefinitely".