Relatives will be able to visit elderly loved ones for the first time in months after the Scottish Government announced plans for a phased reopening of care homes.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said the homes will be able to accept visitors from next week under strict new rules unveiled yesterday to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The changes to the rules come after a ban in place for three months on any type of visit other than for essential or end of life care.
Ms Freeman said care homes will be able to permit visitors from 3 July if the home has not got a coronavirus case or has been free of the virus for 28 days. In these homes, residents will be able to receive a single nominated visitor, wearing a face covering outside.
Physical distancing must be adhered to and extra hygiene precautions will need to be in place.
A further announcement on visitors to hospitals and other healthcare settings will be made next week, the Health Secretary said.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily coronavirus briefing, Ms Freeman said “significant progress” has been made in tackling the virus.
She said: “The decision to restrict visitors was not one taken lightly. It was informed by scientific and clinical advice and was taken to protect those living and working in care homes and visitors from the risk of infection.
“Significant progress has been made and we have seen improvements in the number of care homes with ongoing infections to the extent that we can now see a phased and cautious return to visiting in care homes when and where it is clinically safe to do so.
“It is crucial that we do this incrementally and proceed with real caution to protect residents and staff. I know that this will be important and welcome news for families and friends with loved ones in care homes. I know how long you have been waiting to see them, but I also know that you will understand our caution.
“When the evidence shows that it is the right time to move to the next stage of the plan, we will provide you with an update.”
The announcement comes as the first move out of total lockdown in terms of care home visits, with further easing to follow if the spread of the virus stays at a low level.
The Scottish Government has been heavily criticised for its handling of the Covid-19 crisis in care homes, with 41 per cent of all deaths from the virus being recorded in care settings, according to the National Records of Scotland.
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Annie Wells said she hoped the government could stick to its deadline and end the “long and painful” wait for relatives.
She said: “It’s been a long and painful wait for care home residents to receive visitors again.
“Very many will have died alone and heartbroken as a result of lockdown.
“I hope this deadline can be stuck to by the SNP, to allow families separated for months during coronavirus a much-needed chance to reunite.”
During the press briefing the First Minister was also challenged about her pledge to have every care home worker tested each week. Across Scotland, nearly 15,000 care home workers were tested in the week beginning 15 June, well below the total number of care home staff, understood to be around 50,000.
Ms Sturgeon responded to criticism saying it was an “ongoing failure” to not be testing all care home staff regularly but admitted it was “not exactly where we want it to be”.
She said: “It is a statement of fact and I don’t think I should be criticised for giving statements of fact when I am answering questions. It is ongoing because it does take time and sometimes these things take longer than I want and the health secretary wants and that may be true in this case.
“It is an ongoing process that is accelerating and we need to make sure it continues in a sustainable way.”
Ms Freeman added: “We also now have secured significant numbers of additional testing kits from the care portal and that will allow us to increase that number week on week.We then need to keep it steady and really keep it running for as long as we and our advisers consider that to be necessary.
“Some progress, not fast enough yet, but it is something I look at constantly and try to identify what more we can do to increase the pace.”
Earlier in the briefing, Ms Sturgeon said the estimate of the R number - the average number of people each infectious person passes the virus on to - has not changed this week and remains between 0.6 and 0.8 - and, crucially, below one.
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