Relatives of care home residents have said it is a “national scandal” that restrictions will continue in care homes while they will be torn up for the rest of society at the next stage of the Government’s road map.
They have also said they are concerned that easing restrictions in wider society too recklessly will lead to individual homes locking down and refusing visitors as cases rise.
The cap on how many visitors a resident can receive in England will be lifted at Step 4, but the Government has said infection control measures will remain in place to protect residents.
Currently, if two staff members or residents test positive for Covid-19 homes are advised to restrict visits, except for in exceptional circumstances, until 14 days after the last positive result, which families fear will become much more likely as transmission increases.
Those designated as essential caregivers are permitted to visit during this period, but a recent survey of relatives by campaigners suggested that many relatives are not applying for or being granted this status.
The unlocking from July 19 will see the scrapping of legal requirements to wear face coverings on public transport and in shops, social distancing in hospitality venues and limits on how many people can meet up.
It is understood that updated guidance will say that visitors and staff should continue wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), and that visitors should continue to agree visits in advance, be tested regularly and keep a distance from other residents.
Residents returning from overnight hospital stays and other high-risk visits will still be required to isolate for 14 days, the guidance, due this week, is expected to say.
While this guidance will not be underpinned in law, providers are expected to follow it, with breaches investigated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
The PA news agency spoke to the loved ones of care home residents to see how they are feeling ahead of Step 4.
Each person PA spoke to did not want to either give their full name or the name of the care home their relative is in for fear of potential negative repercussions, such as having visiting rights curtailed.
Carol, from Huddersfield, said her 87-year-old mother struggles to recognise her when she is wearing a mask but that she has been told she cannot visit without one.
She was initially told she could wear a visor, which she said was transformative for her mother.
The 61-year-old told the PA news agency she is “furious” that restrictions will continue in care homes while they are mainly scrapped for wider society.
She said: “I think it’s a national scandal. I am absolutely horrified, frustrated, angry, devastated… because the rest of society in these last 15 months have been given freedom.
“They are the only ones who are still being cut off – how can this be allowed? It’s beyond me.”
It is understood that the Government wants to keep measures in care homes in place while it monitors the impact of moving to Step 4, with an aim to ease them in the coming months.
Experts fear there could be 200 deaths a day as cases surge, despite the protection offered by the vaccination campaign.
It is understood that the Government does not want measures such as PPE in care homes to become a permanent fixture.
The Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare group, which runs 46 homes, has written to Health Secretary Sajid Javid warning that “once protective measures are now damaging the wellbeing of care home residents”.
Dorothy, who was given essential caregiver status to visit her 89-year-old mother after “endless fighting”, said she believes it is inevitable that homes will lock down if cases surge.
The 60-year-old from London said the Government’s Step 4 plans have made her feel “upset, angry, furious, ill and exhausted”.
“I’d like a guarantee that if carers and whoever else is going into the home take cases into the home, we, the families, if we test negative, will not be denied access to our loved ones,” she told PA.
“I do not want my mother to die alone, which she will do if we’re locked out again.”
John’s Campaign said it is receiving reports from families of care homes restricting visiting due to positive cases in staff and residents, even ahead of the Step 4 move.
The charity has threatened the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) with legal action three times over its visiting guidance, which it said breached equality and human rights law.
It says the mix of unclear guidance and homes’ varying interpretations of this “continues to make for an unacceptably varied range of decisions and experiences that often have nothing to do with individual needs and choices”.
It is particularly concerned about the continued requirement for residents to self-isolate for 14 days after overnight hospital stays, and says homes are unwittingly in danger of acting unlawfully by confining residents without their consent.
Co-founder of the charity, Julia Jones, said families are upset by the “fundamental unfairness” of the restrictions, and that the Government must make clear on what legal basis they should continue.
She said: “Of all people, they need to build up their wellbeing and their resilience, so they should be treated the same as everyone else in the population.
“Keeping somebody safe doesn’t mean shutting them in and isolating them, because that’s terribly, terribly bad for people.”
Ms Jones cited the example of a resident who wanted to watch Wimbledon with another resident but was told she had to watch it alone in her bedroom.
Residents and their families simply want to be “trusted to behave in the sensible responsible manner that everyone else is being trusted to behave in,” she added.
The Government has been approached for comment.