Close-contact indoor visits are no longer allowed across England and care homes with outbreaks will not be able to have guests. Residents can leave care homes to see friends and family but they will not be able to meet them indoors. Visits will still be allowed under exceptional circumstances such as at the end of a life.
The official guidance from the Cabinet Office does also permit visits involving the use of screens and pods or greeting guests through windows.
But Fiona Carragher, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said many residents have still not been able to see or hug loved ones properly in months.
The charity is calling for the Government to “act with compassion” and prioritise the safe continuation of meaningful visits. Ms Carragher said: “We’re as concerned as everyone else at the increasing number of cases, but the announcement of a new national lockdown is another terrible blow to thousands of care home residents and their families.
“The large majority of people in care homes with dementia do not have time on their side.
“Contact with their families isn’t just for comfort but fundamental to their care – and most important of all, their reason for living. The Government must do everything it can to keep people in care homes safe from the virus, but must act with compassion to prioritise meaningful visits continuing in a safe way.”
She said that a visit was the one thing that mattered most to them in their final days.
Age UK charity described the new lockdown rules as “heartbreaking for hundreds of thousands of older people and their families”.
Director Caroline Abrahams said: “The attitudes of care home bosses will be crucial in allowing as much care home visiting as possible to continue.
“So the Government should urgently issue new visiting guidance to discourage any unreasonable restrictions they are inclined to impose.”
Care homes have been at the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic with as many as 20,000 elderly people dying of the virus, according to official figures.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged that the NHS will vaccinate the 13.2 million of all over-70s and vulnerable people by mid-February, which would protect the health service from becoming overwhelmed.
Mr Johnson said all care home residents and their carers would also be vaccinated by that date.
But Mike Padgham, chairman of the provider organisation The Independent Care Group, described the situation as “back to square one”. He said: “Covid-19 has so far had a devastating effect on care and nursing homes, as well as the care of vulnerable people in their own homes.
“Just as we were beginning to welcome visitors back into our homes and edging back towards normality, we have been hit by this new wave of an even more aggressive, virulent and easily spread virus.
“There will be a need for all homes to renew the vigour with which they protect their residents and for many that will mean, temporarily at least, suspending any visits to their homes, apart from end-of-life visits and emergencies.
“Hopefully, homes will find a way to resume visits again soon, but the health and safety of those residents and their carers must remain paramount.
“At the same time we have to take into account the mental health of residents. It’s like walking a tightrope keeping everything well balanced.
“Our beacon of light in all this is the vaccine and we have to pray that the Government can deliver on its promise to have everyone in the most vulnerable categories vaccinated by the end of this month.”