Care home residents in England will only be allowed three visitors and one essential care worker each, the government has announced, meaning families could be forced to choose who is allowed to visit loved ones over Christmas.
The Department of Health and Social Care said the move was “in order to balance the current Covid-19 risk and the need to keep people safe in line with clinical advice.”
It is understood the guidance, brought in to protect the sector from the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, will come into force from Wednesday.
Announced on the day the UK recorded the highest daily figure - 448 - of Omicron cases, the decision will likely fuel speculation as to whether the government is moving closer to implementing so-called 'Plan C' curbs.
A three-visitor limit in care homes, along with the use of vaccine passports for smaller venues such as pubs, have been reported as being among the potential further restrictions within this plan.
Other measures could include stricter isolation requirements for contacts of Covid cases and masks in pubs.
However, the government has dismissed reports of any official Plan C having been drawn up, with Boris Johnson already facing a revolt from the Tory backbenches over Plan B regulations, which are due to be debated in the House of Commons next week.
As part of the new Covid measures announced on Wednesday, people in England will be asked to work from home again if possible and face masks will be compulsory in most public places. Covid passes will also be needed to get into nightclubs and large venues from next week.
Under the new package of care home measures announced on Friday, staff testing will also be increased from two lateral flow tests per week to three, alongside a weekly PCR test.
The government said specialist vaccination teams are being expanded to guarantee all care home residents and staff, and housebound people and their care givers, are offered a booster jab.
Fully vaccinated residents visiting family and friends outside the care home will be asked to take a lateral flow test on alternate days for two weeks after each outing, while those not vaccinated will have to isolate following an outside visit.
The government said care homes would also benefit from a £300 million fund that can be used to pay for bonuses, bring forward pay rises, fund overtime and staff recruitment until the end of March.
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