People living in care homes in England will soon be allowed to have loved ones visit them inside their residence, so long as the facility has been made Covid-secure, the health secretary has told ITV News.
Matt Hancock acknowledged "people are yearning to see their loved ones" and said announcements will be made in the "next few days" setting out how safe visits can occur.
"There'll be more details soon, but I think that people are yearning to see their loved ones and the residents of care homes get so much from visitors," Mr Hancock told ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand.
"It's been a very, very long period and that period where there hasn’t been any visiting to care homes, that’s coming to an end very soon."
He hinted indoor visits could be permitted from as early as next week, saying: "I very much hope that in the next few days we’ll be able to make this change." He said it was important for ministers to "get it right" in order to avoid more transmission in care homes.
"We’ve got to make sure it works for each local area but I hope we can make that change very soon."
Full details on care home visits will be set out by the Health Secretary Matt Hancock "very soon", ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand explains
The health secretary also dropped a big hint that a pay rise was on the horizon for social care staff.
He said the social care sector does an "incredibly important job" and pointed to previous pay rises he has voted for and said he was "proud" they had been made.
"I can’t make a financial announcement now but I think you can see where my heart lies," he told Paul Brand.
"Its a very important and valued job and I'm really proud of the increase in the living wage that we’ve introduced that has had more of an impact on the care sector than any other sector and I want to see that go further."
Despite providing the sector with some good news, Mr Hancock would not offer an apology to people employed in social care over comments made by Boris Johnson which appeared to blame the industry for its high numbers of coronavirus cases.
Mr Johnson told reporters “too many” care homes did not properly follow procedures during the coronavirus pandemic.
One care home boss, Debbie Adams, told ITV News she was "absolutely livid" when she heard his comments and said she wants an apology.
When asked whether he would say sorry to care home managers for the comments made by Mr Johnson, the health secretary declined.
Care home boss calls Boris Johnson a 'joke'
Instead, he sought to clarify the PM's comments, saying he never meant to blame care homes.
He added: "I can also say how much we value their work and everything they’ve done to keep people safe."
In the wide ranging interview, which will be available on Youtube to watch in full, the health secretary said a second peak in coronavirus is not inevitable, despite many believing the recent lockdown relaxations will cause one.
He said: "Well I very much hope there won’t be one.
"People talk about the second wave as if it's something that is inevitable.
"We do see spikes, we’ve seen in Australia - they thought that they’d more or less got rid of it and then there’s been a spike and they’ve locked down Melbourne."
He admitted the "most difficult time is in the winter" because people are indoor more and "secondly because there’s some evidence that the virus transmits more easily in cold environments and so that is undoubtedly going to be a challenge.
"But there’s no inevitability to it, so long as people keep following the social distancing guidelines."
He said the "darkest" moments of the crisis so far was after lockdown had been imposed but no changes could be seen in transmission levels or death levels, plus when both he and the prime minister were ill with coronavirus.