Care home residents will once again be allowed to hug their family members after months of separation.
Ministers announced on Monday that a new national roll-out of rapid result tests means those who test negative for coronavirus will be able to visit their loved ones in care homes.
For the first time since March, care home residents will be able to see up to two Covid-free people twice a week, regardless of which tier they live in.
Over the last nine months residents have been unable to enjoy quality time with visitors due to Covid-19 restrictions, which saw screens and windows installed in some homes.
Others held "drive-by wave visits" or imposed blanket bans on visitation to avoid the risk of an outbreak among highly vulnerable patients.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has declared a major change to the policy with the introduction of quick testing, saying all care home residents will be allowed face-to-face indoor visits by Christmas.
"I know how difficult it has been for people in care homes and their families to be apart for so long," he said.
"The separation has been painful but has protected residents and staff from this deadly virus.
"I'm so pleased we are now able to help reunite families and more safely allow people to have meaningful contact with their loved ones by Christmas."
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Over a million of the lateral flow tests, which provide results within 30 minutes, have already been sent out to almost 400 large care homes, and the first face-to-face visits can take place today.
Guidelines issued by the Department of Health last night say the 'default position' is visits should go ahead in all tiers – unless there is a coronavirus outbreak in the care home.
Over the course of the next month the tests will be delivered to England's 16,000 care homes.
Visitors who turn up to see a loved one will receive a lateral flow test, and if it comes back negative they'll be allowed to go inside to hug or hold hands with the resident — provided they're wearing PPE such as a mask.
Last week the UK's Chief Medical Officer said Brits should avoid kissing or hugging their elderly relatives over Christmas so they can "survive to get hugged again".
Professor Chris Whitty said it's not illegal to hug and kiss older family members, but added it "does not make sense" to risk it.
Families will be able to see each other for up to five days over the Christmas period, with three separate households allowed to mix indoors between December 23 and 27.
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